An epic but ultimately failed proposal by filmmaker George Lucas to build a museum in San Francisco was properly handled by the Presidio Trust, federal investigators have concluded.
Despite complaints from allies of the “Star Wars” creator – and Modesto, California, native – Interior Department officials detected no serious problems with the 2014 rejection of Lucas’ ambitious proposal, which had drawn the support of some of the state’s most prominent politicians.
The Presidio Trust “followed its project policies and procedures, published all project documentation on its official website and sought public input throughout the process,” the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General said in the report quietly issued Monday.
Investigators noted, moreover, that the proposed museum was rejected even though, according to the report, “Lucas pressured the Trust to do what he wanted through his influential supporters,” who included Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and California Gov. Jerry Brown.
“The Lucas project manager noted that it probably had been the wrong decision to create pressure from outside the process to try to change the minds of the board members and commented that it didn’t work,” the Interior Department investigators said.
First floated in 2010, the Lucas proposal envisioned an ornate Beaux Arts-style museum rising on the Presidio’s Crissy Field site. The unsolicited proposal followed the Lucas team’s earlier success with the Letterman Digital and New Media Arts Center on Presidio grounds.
After being turned away from Crissy Field, Lucas looked to a 17-acre parcel offered by the city of Chicago. Stalled there by a lawsuit, Lucas said in June that he would be turning back to the West for the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.
“California will be its future home,” the museum’s board of directors said in a June 24 statement.
The proposed museum would display paintings, digital art and set designs from movies such as Lucas’ own “Star Wars” series, among other things. High-powered board members, including a former U.S. secretary of education and the chair of the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents, oversee the project.
The Lucas project manager told us that Lucas’ team launched a campaign to convince local politicians and high-powered businesspeople that his project was ‘the best, perfect thing’ for San Francisco.
Interior Department Office of Inspector General
The Interior Department investigation that concluded this week with the release of the six-page report was prompted by a July 2015 referral from Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo. In a statement to McClatchy on Tuesday, Speier said she “must disagree with the claim that (investigators) conclusively found no evidence of wrongdoing in this issue.”
Speier noted that the Office of Inspector General “lacks the statutory authority needed to conduct a thorough investigation of independent federal organizations like the Presidio Trust,” and she indicated she’s considering legislation to close this potential loophole.
Based on some 37,000 internal emails obtained by Lucas supporters under the Freedom of Information Act, the complaint questioned whether Presidio Trust staffers had prematurely ruled out Lucas’ proposal and plotted against his bid.
In 2013, the Presidio Trust’s then-executive director, Craig Middleton, replaced the initial Crissy Field project manager based on concerns raised by a board member and others regarding her objectivity.
In one email, the former project manager commented that the Lucas building would “NEVER” be built, and in others she made what she described as “irritated or snarky” comments.
While investigators acknowledged that some of the email traffic between the initial project manager and an adviser had “created an embarrassment” and posed “the potential to generate questions about the fairness and integrity of the process,” they rejected suggestions that the process was actually unfair.
Some fundamental problems, investigators suggested, were of the Lucas team’s own making.
“Several Trust staff members described the Lucas team as being the least responsive and cooperative of the three finalists,” investigators noted, adding that “Lucas was inflexible and unwilling to modify the architecture” to meet Presidio guidelines.
A museum spokesperson could not be reached to comment.