Sunday, June 30, 2013

Adventures in Lucasland

Some very strange things have happened in and around my lifelong home, the Ross Valley of Central Marin County, but the latest is perhaps the strangest of all. In the heart of downtown San Anselmo, the Hub City where the Ross Valley meets The Miracle Mile from San Rafael, a hundred year-old building that once housed the Rexall Pharmacy and still had Rx mortar and pestle insignia on the buffed metal central door handles, was torn down to build a park and in the center of the park stand two of the Ross Valley's central defining characters: Indiana Jones and Yoda.
The park is named "Imagination Park", and it abuts the Spanish style city hall and one of the branches of the freshly merged Central Marin police. From the time the first wrecking ball began taking out Kenny Harris' pharmacy and the subsequent furniture store, to the time the statues were unveiled a few weeks ago - a mere three months - the curiosity has been palpable. The patron saint of San Anselmo was at it again. After transforming a hilltop mansion perched above a mortuary and surrounded by apartments and single-family homes into a compound of  high security designer redwood lodgings surrounded by an instant forest of 100-gallon trees, some of us started to have ancient, archetypal flashbacks to the feudal days of King Arthur and Lancelot. But our king was the quietest of royal highnesses, more likely to be found at a school board meeting than a
Opening Day
Hollywood awards ceremony. After a long period of relative quiet, our lord emerged from the shadows to purchase the land where on old wooden instrument shop, Amazing Grace, had sat untouched for centuries. He so loved the shop and so hated the little spit of land it occupied between westbound and eastbound traffic on The Miracle Mile that he built a new Sonoma fieldstone/redwood Amazing Grace a little further up where the space between the two lane one way thoroughfares is wide enough for a few parking spots, and filled in the little spit by the intersection with another one of his signature redwood-tree landfills; just because he thought it would look better, and he didn't want to lose the wooden instrument store to progress and Musician's Friend. Plus he had to drive by the little shithole whenever he stayed at the San Anselmo estate to go anywhere. (Personally, I think a 15 ft. tall Chewy Chewbacca statue would be super cool nestled between the redwoods, with perhaps an Ewok in one of those groovy little shuttle units suspended above the trees.)
The new Amazing Grace wooden instrument store
    Anybody that has seen a Lucas creation knows that aesthetics are everything; the combination of the acting, the special effects, and the composition of his frames are what makes him more than your garden variety action adventure dude. He extends his sense of aesthetics to his surroundings, be they the gazillion acre production facility, Skywalker Ranch, that Lucasfilm LTD, now another little tiny head on the multi-headed Disney hydra, built and ran for several thousand years, to the Victorian mansion overlooking Red Hill Avenue and all the surrouinding buildings - his downtown compound - to the little spit of intersection and Amazing Grace music to, ultimately, Imagination Park. There are doubtless other smaller projects that he's had his hand in here in San Anselmo, and of course there's the high profile empire building going on in the Presidio across the GG bridge, but nothing, no matter how grand in scale or significant in impact comes close to the bronze statues of Indiana Jones and Yoda in Imagination Park.  
George, dedicating...
These are the characters that made one of the town's citizens gazillions of dollars, a smidgen of which he has bequeathed upon the civic landscapeto honor his own imagination and the notoriety it has brought him and, by default, our town. And, as if he were doing everybody a big favor, he's turned a very nice little park into a tourist attraction, a landmark of sorts where folks can pause for their Raiders of the Lost Star Wars photo op while shopping at one of the shops along San Anselmo Ave., perhaps as a detour on their way to the Pt. Reyes National Seashore or The Wine Country to the north. And what a great way to ensure the popularity of not just a couple of movies but an entire portfolio of films.  It's unfortunate that Indiana Jones doesn't look anything like Harrison Ford: there isn't even the slighest hint of a crooked smile or a sneer or bemusement of any sort, those characteristics that make Indy such a memorable character. No, this statue looks like an archeologist with a bullwhip and a Stetson. Thankfully, Yoda is Yoda. 

While the research has yet to be done, my guess is that there are very few, public spaces that pay homage to imaginary characters from films, books ( or even the mind of the rich industrialist that perhaps founded the town). If there's a rich dude or dudette building parks for the townsolk, the statue is most likely to be of him, or her, or perhaps an president or public figure: Ike, Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, Genghis Kahn etc. I suppose the statue builder could honor anybody their little heart desired, even their own imaginary creations, just so long as they were building a park to go with it and footing the bill.
But the quirk of Imagination Park in downtown San Anselmo isn't so much about a famous film maker and civic philanthropist paying homage to his own creations - I think just about anybody might observe that it's a little strange, regardless of whether they like it or not. And of course it's completely different than naming his vast production facility and offices "Skywalker Ranch", though it is ironic that he chose Lucas Valley for the location. Instead, the presence of Dr. Jones and Yoda in bronze, surrounded by a reflecting pool, next to the City Hall in downtown San Anselmo and just a couple miles from one of Junipero Serra's historic California Missions in downtown San Rafael, is practically a throwback to the days where every town had a statue of some important historical figure on the village green.

But we roll differently in these parts: our history isn't defined by the Miwoks, or the Alta Californian Rancheros, the lumberjacks, sawyers and mills that raped the Ross Valley and it's watershed of it's redwoods to build San Francisco, only to see it all go up in flames in 1906 (those lumber guys thought they were doing the right thing at the time...), or the quiet Theologians that have been coming to the seminary in our town for over 100 years, or even that scoundrel and pirate Sir Francis Drake (besides he already has his statue in Larkspur Landing), and of course we could go on and on; just the hubbiness of San Anselmo and it's distinction as a crossroads warrants some notoriety.
Instead, San Anselmo pays homage to two of very recent history's most memorable imaginary heroes. I guess we've tacitly decided that when visitors come to San Anselmo, this is what we want them to remember about our home town: that a world-renowned storyteller, film maker and entrepreneur with industrial-strength imagination and drive chose to live in San Anselmo instead of Modesto (his home town) or Hollywood, and that this exceptional civic philanthropist has almost single-handedly given birth to one of the most powerful economic and creative forces in the entire Bay Area, drawing stars from around the world to Skywalker and the greatest special effects producers to ILM. We want visitors to know that this amazing guy is our homie, and that we rub shoulders with him at school board meetings and soccer games. We want visitors to note that two of the world's most beloved characters were invented right here in San Anselmo: a green-skinned squashed-face midget in jammies with camel-toe hands and bat ears who inverts his noun/verb phrases such that talk funny he does, and a hard-drinking, foul-mouthed, chauvinistic womanizing trophy hunter who is a magician with a bullwhip and hates snakes.
Then, once we get Luke, Princess Leia, Obi-Wan, Jar Jar Binks, Darth, and most of all Jabba the Hut, along with Indy and a few Nazis, painted over the Waldo tunnel entering Marin, and we replace Sir Francis with Chewbacca at Larkspur Landing, the naked lady in front of Bon Air with Indy surrounded by bloodthirsty scimtar-weilding fez-heads, and the San Rafael Mission with a life-sized replica of The Cave of The Crystal Skull - then we will have truly created a civic identity of which we can all be proud.

Smelly Foot Note: Personally I think it might have been classier to wait until after George became one with The Force and sprouted bat-ears of his own. Then we could have a statue of George, surrounded by his beloved characters and Yoda... on his lap.
(Has anybody heard about The Godfather statue planned for the Sonoma town square? Coppola makes wine in Sonoma, he might as well have a statue, too. Right?)


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