LeMay America’s Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington
I am not at all a car enthusiast. I drive my cars until they fall apart around me. I could only get my wife to accompany me with the promise of good food and shopping at Tacoma’s Koreatown on South Tacoma Way. But we were both fascinated by this museum and crawled over every inch of it for at least two hours.
The collection spans the history of the automobile from its earliest days (first decade of the 20th century) to the newest electric cars (Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf). Harold LeMay built up one of the largest car collections in the country over 50+ years. The LeMay family ran a large private garbage hauling business over 5 counties of Washington state, which funded Harold’s collecting activities. The museum has taken donations and cars on loan from many other private collectors as well. They are continually rotating the vehicles on display (some trucks and motorcycles too). Harold passed away in the year 2000 and his widow, family, and network of friends and car enthusiasts spearheaded this effort to build a major museum around Harold’s collection.
The museum was conceived of deliberately to be among the most important car museums in the US. Its sheer size puts it in the top rank. The building you see, sitting along highway I-5 next to the Tacoma Dome, is just the cap to a structure that is mostly underground. Four major exhibit halls sit one on top of the other along with further displays in the side ramps on both sides that reach from one level to another. The effect is disorienting. Multiple people remarked that they had become lost in the structure. The museum participates or sponsors a variety of local community events and as far afield as California and Italy. They have created a membership club for car enthusiasts with special events, a private meeting room, and a private garage.
My favorite aspects of the museum tour were:
- The beautiful architecture of the building, which is a giant tube encased in metal – something reminiscent of a sport car.
- The terrific view of the City of Tacoma at the end of the tube.
- My favorite cars were the coach cars from the 1920s and 1930s that were custom-built for the wealthy. These would have lace curtains, crystal vases for flowers, and a rumble seat over the back wheels.
- For an extra fee one of the lower levels has racing simulators and a huge remote control track that would be fun for kids.
- A theater gives you a place to rest and learn about the LeMay story.
- The gift shop was quite good.