Row upon row of shiny, gleaming cars await your visit.
A project that’s been talked about and in the works for more than ten years opened earlier this month. LeMay – America’s Car Museum (it’s official name) is a four-story, 165,000 square-foot venue, located in Tacoma across from the Tacoma Dome complete with a preservation shop, galleries, banquet hall, meeting space, car storage, a gift shop and a café.
LeMay is the largest auto museum in North America and should boost Tacoma’s economy with an estimated 425,000 visitors and $32 million in visitor spending and employment locally.
Rotating exhibits tell the story of the automobile. The museum houses 15 display spaces, which include three galleries six ramps (which can hold 12 cars each) three viewable storage galleries and three primary end galleries.
The museum was named for Harold LeMay who was an “extreme” car collector. His collection made it into the Guinness Book of World Records. Some might call him a car rescuer because according to his wife, Nancy, he bought cars so they wouldn’t be destroyed. So he had a huge variety of makes, models, shapes and sizes. And it was his dream to share them with everyone. Although LeMay won’t see the finished museum, because he died in 2000 at the age of 81, his dream lives on through Nancy and a host of workers and volunteers.
“Harold had a lifelong passion for autos,” says Scott Keller, chief marketing and communications officer for the museum. “What’s unique about this collection is that it’s eclectic and offers something for everyone.”
From the 1930 red Duesenberg Model J which sold for a minimum of $13,000 new to the 1983 Mercury Marquis Station Wagon, the collection focuses on America’s timeless love affair with the automobile. Keller says many of the cars have a very colorful history.
Lemay traveled throughout the United States buying cars.
“Harold would see a car he wanted to maintain and buy it,” says Keller. “Part of preserving the autos was caring for them and driving them, although not all of the vehicles in his collection are drivable.”
He was able to buy so many cars because of the very successful waste management business he started, says Keller. At the time of LeMay’s passing Harold LeMay Enterprises was the 10th largest refuse business in the United States.
Heather Larson writes about the Pacific Northwest from her office in Tacoma, Washington hoping she can entice you to visit or share your own memories of the region.