Mayor Eric Garcetti Talks Star Wars, A Lucas Museum In Expo Park, And L.A. As 'The Creative Crossroads Of The World'

Update [3:30 p.m. 1/10/17]The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art will officially be coming to Los Angeles! See below for our October 2016 interview with Mayor Eric Garcetti about L.A.'s bid for museum, and why it belongs in Exposition Park.

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Los Angeles and San Francisco have been vying to play host to George Lucas' much-hyped Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, since the forthcoming museum's plans for a Chicago home fell through. This week, the museum took the unusual step of simultaneously releasing potential designs for both West Coast locations.

If L.A. wins the bid, the Lucas Museum will join the California Science Center, California African American Museum, and Natural History Museum in Exposition Park. According to the L.A. Times, the museum would rise on the narrow strip of land adjacent to Vermont Avenue at the western edge of the the park (it's currently occupied by surface parking lots). The (far inferior) potential San Francisco version would go on San Francisco Bay's Treasure Island, which not only isn't even a real island, but also is literally contaminated with radioactive waste.

"The preliminary proposal seems quite exciting and would further activate Exposition Park by attracting new audiences," Dr. Lori Bettison Varga, president and director of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County told LAist.

Chinese architect Ma Yansong, a Beijing-born protégée of Zaha Hadid, created both of the sweeping, curvilinear designs. He was also responsible for the original Chicago plans. Both the L.A. and S.F. versions of the museum would have between 265,000 and 275,000 square feet of interior space, with 100,000 feet devoted to galleries, according to the Times.

We spoke to Mayor Eric Garcetti Thursday morning about the city's bid, his love of Star Wars, and L.A.'s growing profile as a global creative capital:

Have you had a chance to study the design yet? What are your initial thoughts?

I've been sitting on [the designs] for a while. I had to respect the embargo, but they've been my screensaver. I think they're incredibly gorgeous. I'm a big fan of Ma's architecture. I think he's one of the most exciting young architects in the world. I love the dynamism of this design.

In a city that's known for its bold architectural statements, this would be an incredible addition to our civic landscape. I think it's the capstone of an amazing park which has come alive. For one end of the park to have the imagination, and the other end to have the incarnation of that imagination with the Science Center would be a beautiful thing for the city.

With the new soccer stadium replacing the Sports Arena, do you worry at all about Expo Park being overcapacity with attractions, and potentially overloading the surrounding area in terms of traffic and use?

No. I mean you look at the Rams games, which are much bigger than what the soccer stadium will have, and we've seen 25% of the people going to games coming on public transportation. This makes so much sense because the Expo Line is there, and you're two or three stops away from lines that get to the entire county. This is probably the smartest place to put something like this.

I think the daytime weekday use for school children, and the times when this museum will be most used is a different pace from when the sporting events will generally be held. If you go to Expo Park—and I spend a lot of time there with my family—it's not anywhere near capacity. There are moments when there is a game and there's a lot of people, but I would say 98% of the time it can be activated even further. One of the things I love about this [plan] is that it expands the green space. It turns two asphalt parking lots in one of the key entry points of the park into this amazing museum with expanded green space and gardens for Expo Park.

Are you a longtime George Lucas fan? Did you grow up watching Star Wars?

Absolutely. It's the first movie I can remember going to the movie theater and seeing. But this is much more than a Star Wars museum. To me, what's really exciting about narrative art—the term that [Lucas] has used—is so many of the different collections you'll have. It's not just Hollywood: it's [R.] Crumb, it's [Norman] Rockwell.

It's things that I think have always been what art has been about for most people, but that today are assigned to fan conventions, online communities and private homes. But we know that this stuff is what really inspires people's imaginations. And George Lucas and Mellody Hobson, who have a connection, by the way, to the neighborhood—obviously through USC, where George went, and Mellody used to be on the board of the California African American Museum—they know this place. I think L.A. has always attracted the best storytellers in the world and that's what L.A. did with George Lucas, so it would be fitting for him to bring a lifetime of storytelling back to L.A.

Where does a potential Expo Park-based Lucas Museum fit in with the 2024 Olympics bid, in terms of Los Angeles' growing profile as a kind of world city?

I think L.A. is increasingly a place that you can't afford to not be at. If you're a legacy company—if you're Google, you move YouTube here. If you're the Getty, or the Berggruen Institute, or the Broad Museum, you want to be here. The NFL recognized how important [L.A.] is. The Olympics, I think, are quite attracted again to us.

This is really L.A.'s moment. It's one of those decades like the 1980s or the 1920s and '30s: these moments of exceptional growth and attention. It really does feel like the creative crossroads of the world. This is New York in the 1980s and '90s, in terms of the number of artists who live here. This is Chicago at the turn of the previous century in terms of the downtown growth. It's a really exciting moment, and you can see that in terms of the record numbers of tourists, record numbers of students and record numbers of jobs.

And compared to San Francisco, which is a beautiful site, we're the opposite of an island. This is where the world comes together. If you want to bring people who are coming to Los Angeles from every corner of the earth to your museum, and bring those kids who are growing up in more working class neighborhoods, this is the ideal place. It doesn't cordon the museum off the world, it invites the world to the museum.

We as a city have been making our desire for this museum very clear. Do you worry at all about us coming on too strong? Just tactically speaking, should we maybe be playing it a little cooler?

Oh, we could have been so much stronger. We've been very disciplined. Jeffrey Katzenberg has really been helping out a lot. We've had a lot of private meetings that we haven't talked about publicly. We've been very respectful of the Lucases, and the fact that they've gone through a couple of bad experiences in other cities. We can do this the easiest in terms of the land use and the environmental work. We have universal community support. We've been relatively muted and respectful about all that, but it's tough to not crow and be enthusiastic about what would be the largest urban gift in U.S. history. I'm ready to shout to the mountain tops, but I don't think we've come on too strong at all.

The Lucases are expected to make their decision early next year, according to the Times.