George Lucas bids to build visual storytelling museum in San Francisco's Presidio park

SAN FRANCISCO – “Star Wars” creator George Lucas wants to build a museum dedicated to visual storytelling in San Francisco’s Presidio that would house an art collection he amassed over more than four decades.

The filmmaker said he has long sought to showcase his collection of 150 years of populist art, which includes illustrations by Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish, comics and digital technology.

Lucas, 69, said he doesn’t have enough wall space at his 6,000-acre (2,500-hectare) Skywalker Ranch, so he wants to invest up to $300 million of his own money to build the museum.

“At this scale, there’s nothing that has ever been done like this,” he said in a recent interview with the San Francisco Chronicle.

Lucas submitted a 20-page proposal to the Presidio Trust last week, one of 16 bids to occupy the former commissary site at Crissy Field, the newspaper reported.

Lucas’ obsession with visual art began when he was a child and would visit the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in Golden Gate Park.

He grew up in Modesto, where his family owned an office supply store and a walnut farm, but Lucas dreamed of being an illustrator. He loved adventure books and the era’s popular magazines, which often featured Rockwell covers.

His art collection began with his first acquisition, an Uncle Scrooge comic book page by Carl Barks, for which Lucas said he paid $25.

“As a popular artist, I hit the same chord with people that Rockwell hit, that Michelangelo hit, that the people who painted on caves in France hit,” Lucas said. “I relate to art more as an emotional experience than as an intellectual experience.”

If his museum bid is accepted, the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum would receive a $400 million endowment upon opening and another when he dies, he said.

In December, Disney acquired Lucasfilm Ltd., which is already housed in the Presidio, a one-time military base turned national park overlooking the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific.

Among the other proposals for the Presidio commissary site are a colour lab that would allow visitors to explore what colour means to them; a museum to honour former University of California, Berkeley chancellor Michael Heyman; or a space to focus on the New Deal’s achievements in the wake of the Great Depression.

The trust is displaying all the bids on its website, where the public can comment on the proposals submitted for an economically viable “cultural institution of distinction” that would offer cross-disciplinary programs and engage the community.

Craig Middleton, the trust’s executive director, said finalists will be announced in April and a decision will be made this year or next.

“The proposals are imaginative and creative and speak to the site, which inspired people to think big,” Middleton said. “We’re very excited at George Lucas being one of them.”