The Lucas Losers: 56 Chicago Places That Didn’t Make the Museum Grade

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at Tuesday, 24 June, 2014 @ 3.53.45 pm PDT

Chicagoland’s science fiction enthusiasts are still walking a little taler in their Hush Puppies today, two days after it was announced that the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art will be built right in their front yards.  Contrary to the baseless internet rumor we’re trying to spread, the decision wasn’t made because summer in Chicago looks like Alderaan, and winter in Chicago looks like Hoth (-pause for laughter-).  The important thing is that we beat out San Francisco, which is already the home of Starfleet Command.  They’ve got Captain Kirk, what else do they need?  Am I right?  (-Is this thing on?-)

In a city like Chicago, no matter where the site selection committee chose for the new museum, somebody was going to be upset.  It didn’t help that they picked a lakefront location.  Even the word “lakefront” is enough to raise the hackles of some preservationists and amateur lawyers. At least one group has already promised to take the matter to court; and it probably won’t be the only one.

The naysayers main contention is that the new museum violates the lakefront protection ordinance.  Backers counter that the site is already developed—with an ugly surface parking lot, and that a judge approved the reconstruction of Soldier Field 11 years ago, setting a precedent for this project as well.  Mayor Rahm Emanuel says the city’s law department has been all over the project, and given it a green light.  He says if they didn’t think it would pass judicial muster, another site would have been chosen.

So, what of those other sites?  After public input, the Mayor’s task force looked at a total of 57 locations before making its decision.  Some of them were clearly from the mind of Jar Jar Binks.  Others were in such marginal locations as to leave no doubt that Han shot first.  And still, there were a couple of Obi -Wan-esque suggestions that probably could work if a fallback position is needed.

We put together a list of all 56 losing locations.  The places in Chicago that were too far away, too poorly served by transit, too crime-ridden, or just plain too stupid for a new museum.  Below are numbers 1 through 30.  Proposals 31 through 56 will be published tomorrow

Yes, ABOVE Union Station

Yes, ABOVE Union Station

1 Above Union Station (210 South Canal Street)— That’s right.  Not next to Union Station, or near Union Station.  Above Union Station.  Sound crazy?  Well, maybe not as much as you might think.  Union Station is one of many downtown Chicago buildings that was actually designed to be expanded vertically.  The original design called for a pair of skyscrapers on top.  In the 1970’s and 80’s those plans were dusted off, but nothing came of it.

Illinois Institite of Technology - Main Building - Chicago, Illinois - November, 2009 - 001a

2 The Armour Building at IIT (3300 South Federal Street)— Aside from being too small and smelling like your weird old aunt’s house, recycling the Armour Building wouldn’t accomplish one of the absolute central goals of the Lucas project: Creating a brand new, iconic building.  Even if that wasn’t an important goal of the project, putting the Lucas Museum in an century-old college building is simply doing it a disservice.  The Lucas Museum is supposed to be a shining showcase of a place, not yet another dusty half-forgotten museum on a college campus like the South Dakota Museum of Geology, or sadly, our own Oriental Institute down at the University of Chicago.

3 Lucas Island (In Lake Michigan)— One suggestion was to build a brand new island in Lake Michigan.  While it would move the city one step closer to Daniel Burnham’s original plan for Chicago, even George Lucas doesn’t have that kind of money.  And that’s a big part of this museum project— He’s footing the bill, not the taxpayers.  For once.

 

See what we did there?

See what we did there?

4 Block37 (108 North State Street)— Aw HELL no!  Yes, there’s plenty of space.  It has the best transit access of any location on the list.  And did we mention there’s plenty of space?  After watching the development of that location over the last 20 years, we can only conclude that it was built over a cursed cemetery.  And they only moved the headstones, not the graves.  And that was Speilberg’s gag, not Lucas’.

5 Cabrini Green (North Side)— Not too bad an idea.  Plenty of space.  OK transit access if the CTA would ever put in a Brown Line station.  But a little out of the way, which is why the area is being developed as a residential neighborhood and not an amusement park.  When you put a big museum near a bunch of other big museums, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  Those of you who took nuclear physics classes will recognize it as “critical mass.”

Pullman gets shut out again

Pullman gets shut out again

6 The Greater Calumet Area (Far South Side)— This was loosely defined as the Pullman/Millennium Reserve/USX area.  We love the Pullman neighborhood, and God knows it needs a shot in the arm.  But getting there by CTA involves packing a lunch.  It’s just too far from Tourist Town.

7 Central Station (18th & Indiana)— Central Station right next door to the location where the museum is actually going.  They’re so close, people in Central Station will be able to smell the freshly slaughtered Tauntauns that the Lucas Museum will use to keep visitors warm while they wait in line on chilly winter mornings.  The actual proposal was to deckover the Metra tracks between Roosevelt Road and 18th Street, but that could get expensive.  Not because of the deck, but because someone already owns that air and has big plans for along string of skyscrapers floating above the train tracks there.  You’d have to buy them out.

8 Charlie Chaplin Thater (5757 Ridge Avenue)— Too small, too far off the beaten track, and deserving of being preserved for its own history.  In order to build an iconic museum, it would have to be torn down and that would make the Little Tramp sad.

Looks like the surface of the Death Star

Looks like the surface of the Death Star

9 Old Main Post Office (433 West Van Buren Street)— Another pretty good idea.  Lots of space.  Great location.  Good access.  Very visible.  But fails the “iconic new structure” test.  Still, keep this one in your back pocket in case we need to compromise later.

10 Sears on State (2 North State Street)— Sears may have left, but someone else is already here.

Just put it out of our misery

Just put it out of our misery

11 Former Cook County Hospital (1969 West Ogden Avenue)— You could tear the place down and have plenty of room for a new iconic building.  But it’s out of the way when it comes to the two very important T’s: Transit and Tourists.  But keep it in mind for the next big museum that picks Chicago over another city.

12 Cuneo Memorial Hospital (720 West Montrose Avenue)— Hmmmm… Nice location across the street from Lincoln Park.  And it’s going to be town down anyway… Good transit and auto access.  Put this in the “B” pile.

13 Douglas Park (California & Roosevelt)— No, no parks.  Except North Burnham Park.  Why?  Another big goal of the selection committee was to not eat any public park space.  You can’t put it in Douglas Park without significantly cutting into the greenery.  At the North Burnham Park location the museum will mostly replace a massive surface parking lot.  Backers claim that because of this the new museum will actually create new greenspace for the city.  But we’ll wait until we see some diagrams before believing that sort of claim.

14 No Man’s Land (South of Roosevelt, east of the river)— Not a bad second choice.  Nothing is happening there.  It’s near highways, shopping, transit, and even McCormick Place (sort of).  It would mesh nicely with the growth of the adjacent South Loop.

15 Vacant Lot (Taylor and Racine)—  Little Italy just isn’t the draw it once was, leaving this location too far out to be practical.

16 Vacant Lot (9th and Michigan)— Too small.  Too crowded.  Too hard for an “iconic” building to stand out amid its neighbors.  Sure, the Spertus Institute pulled it off, but the plan here is something more akin to the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

17 Essanay Studios (1333 West Argyle)— Too small.  Too far away.  Too historic.

 

18 Finkl Plant (2011 North Southport Avenue)— Can you say “remediation?”  I knew you could.

 

So coveted, it should hang a wanted posted of itself in its lobby

So coveted, it should hang a wanted posted of itself in its lobby

19 Fort Dearborn Post Office (540 North Dearborn Street)— Developers have been drooling over this plot of land for decades.  Every couple of years we hear rumors of some kind of city-sponosred land swap so that the post office will move to a different location and the city can sell the land so big ol’ skyscrapers can rise there.  But it just won’t budge.  And with the way the federal government is these days, don’t expect any change in our lifetime.

20 Fritkin Jones Design (3300 West Franklin Boulevard)— With apologies to the people who live in Garfield Park, the question isn’t “Why not?” it’s “Why?”

21 Garfield Park (100 North Central Park Avenue)— See Douglas Park above.

 

22 Chicago History Museum Parking Garage (Clark & LaSalle)— Not as daft as it sounds at first.  We can get rid of the sight of an ugly parking lot, it’s right in Lincoln Park, near the Zoo that thousands of tourists visit each day, the History Museum that hundreds visit each day, and has good access to highways and transit.  It has potential.

23 Jackson Park (6401 South Stony Island Avenue)— See Douglas Park and Garfield Park above.

Location, location, location!

Location, location, location!

24 Jardine Filtration Plant (1000 East Ohio Street)— This proposal must have been submitted by Darth Vader, who doesn’t want downtown to have any water.

25 Jefferson Park Transit Center (4917 North Milwaukee Avenue)— Well, you can’t argue that it doesn’t have great access.  But it’s just not a nice location.  Plus, do we really want to give any more hotel tax dollars to Rosemont?

Architectural wonder, or mistake on the lake?

Architectural wonder, or mistake on the lake?

26 McCormick Place Lakeside Center (2301 South Lake Shore Drive)— It’s a big building that’s outlived its purpose.  But if you tear it down and try to replace it with a new building, you get the preservationists up in arms two ways.

Good freeway access.  And that's about all.

Good freeway access. And that’s about all.

27 Malcolm X College (1857 West Jackson Boulevard)— You could get rid of that huge parking lot across the street from Malcolm X.  That’s a good thing.  But this is a neighborhood “in transition” and perhaps a little too edgy for a couple of million Midwestern tourists.  Plus, it’s not near any other tourist attractions, making it less attractive for people to go out of their way.  Sure, it’s near the United Center, but there’s probably somewhat limited overlap between United Center sports fans and Lucas Museum fantasy fans.

28 MANA Contemporary Arts Building (2233 South Throop Street)— What? Where? Why?  Sure, the hipsters of the metropolitan Bridgeport/Pilsen area think they’re Brooklyn on the Prairie, but you’re not there yet.  Too industrial.  Not ready for prime time.

29 Marshall Field Garden Apartments (1448 North Sedgwick Street)— Ummm… there’s people living here still.  This isn’t the Daley era.  You can’t just kick a bunch of poor people to the curb in order to bring in a tourist attraction anymore.

30 The Discount Mega Mall (2500 North Milwaukee Ave)— We all love Logan Square.  And sure, Logan Hardware has probably the last working vector Star Wars arcade machine in the region.  But plopping down a huge museum in the middle of this neighborhood would probably be more disruptive than helpful.

I can already hear you asking, “Where is Michael Reese Hospital?”  Well, don’t get your undies in a bundle.  That location just happens to be #31, which means it’s in part two of the list.  Read it by clicking here.

Editor

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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