By on October 22, 2011

The LeMay Museum in Tacoma, WA won’t be completed until June, but the NY Times reports that it aims to become on of the premiere automotive museums in the country, rivaling collections like the Peterson and Harrah museums. And at 165,000 square feet, the building that is rising in Tacoma needs to be huge: though “only” 750 vehicles will be exhibited at a time when the building is done, the LeMay collection is far larger than that. Although even curator David Madeira isn’t sure how many vehicles actually belong to the collection.

“I don’t know,” Mr. Madeira said recently in an interview at The Times, when asked how many vehicles were in the possession of Harold LeMay, the garbage-disposal magnate whose collection of American automobiles would comprise the majority of the museum’s holdings. Mr. LeMay, who died in 2000, was prone to buying a barn or even a field containing old automobiles just to prevent their contents from landing in a junkyard. “He was not a connoisseur; he was a true collector,” Mr. Madeira said.

Once holding at least 3,500 vehicles, the collection has been cut to “north of a thousand” aimed at representing the sweep of American automotive history. And those will be joined by vehicles from the collection of watchmaker Nicolai Bulgari in order to create an automotive museum that founders hope lives up to the name “America’s Car Museum.” Since it’s right up I-5 from me, I’ll be sure to report on the collection and whether it reaches that lofty goal when it opens to the public next Summer.


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14 Comments on ““America’s Car Museum” Rises In Tacoma...”

  • avatar

    I’m avidly looking forward to visiting this museum once it’s open. I just visited the Studebaker Museum last week, and have previously been to Harrah’s, and when I was a youngster, the Henry Ford Museum (which is on the itinerary when we get to Detroit for a Lions and Red Wings game in the next year or two). Also on the list is a visit to the Cord/Auburn/Duesenberg museum, and an auction at Barret-Jackson. While I’m not a fan of Barret-Jackson, and like companies for what they’ve done to the collector scene, it’s still worth a visit to an auction just to witness the cars and the bidding insanity.

    I look forward to your report, Edward. I hope it’s everything that the hype promises.

  • avatar

    Even a junkyard is more attractive than that building. Did they hold a contest to find the architect that could make it most closely resemble a supository?

  • avatar

    You gotta remember, its in Tacoma.

  • avatar

    Not much you can do to make Tacoma pretty, except look up at Mt. Rainier.

    As a long-time car-obsessed resident of the Pacific Northwest I’m very familiar with the Le May collection. While this building has been in planning and construction the collection has existed in scattered warehouses in the south Puget Sound area. The Museum staff are frequent participants in the local car scene, hosting many events every summer and bringing rare vehicles to car shows and events all around the Pacific Northwest. They are great folks and I’m REALLY looking forward to seeing the collection laid out in something other than a cramped, industrial setting.

  • avatar

    I had the pleasure of seeing part of the LeMay collection at one of their annual summer open houses. It’ll be well worth visiting the museum. The great thing about the LeMay collection is that it includes many ordinary, everyday cars from past eras, as well as cars that were special even in their heyday. See how small ordinary people’s cars were in the late ’40s and early ’50s.

  • avatar

    It’s a shame they didn’t build it to hold twice that many vehicles; LeMay had ’em.

    End of August every year he would open up the buildings at his residence and an old military school a few miles away and sell tickets for about half what he could have charged, busing people back and fourth.

    If he had one of something, he usually had 3 or 4 of them.

  • avatar

    I agree, having grown up in that town that there really isn’t much you can do to make Tacoma pretty without leveling and starting over.

    Sadly, it let its downtown wither on the vine and it died by the 70’s when Sears finally bowed out in 1980 for its current location at the Tacoma Mall, the local People’s store went out of business in 1983, they had a store downtown and out in Lakewood and Woolworths bent bankrupt years ago, and of course, their location downtown disappeared as well.

    But it IS a blue collar town and it shows.

    That said, I’m interested in checking out the LeMay museum when its finally open myself as I get down to Tacoma where Mom still lives fairly frequently.

  • avatar

    I’ve been to lots of LeMay open houses and in addition saw the cars in some of Harold’s storage buildings around Spanaway. He was quite a guy, a real car enthusiast and collector. It didn’t take very much time looking at his cars to figure out that he was a Chevy guy. For instance he had a 1941 Chevy convertible in each color the factory offered…he had one or more Chevys from every year, at least from the mid-30’s to 60’s, including a lot of trucks. One great feature of his open houses has been that people were invited to bring and display their own cars, and a walk through the parking lots would be almost as good as seeing the cars, trucks, tractors etc in Harold’s collection..

    When the Museum opens in Tacoma next year it’ll be great to go through that and see how many of the cars are familiar to me.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    I don’t care what the museum looks like. I do care about the fact that it’s 40 miles away from me and has an amazing collection of cars. Can’t wait to pay it a visit once it opens.

  • avatar

    Yah, its good that museum was built, but I would have to presume that whoever approved the design is feeling some heat — ugly is too soft a word for the building..

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