LeMay: America’s Car Museum Is Revving For Its Grand Opening

It’s almost “race day” for what is primed to be Tacoma’s main attraction. All the cars have been waxed and buffed and waxed and buffed again for the grand opening of LeMay: America’s Car Museum June 1-3 at the landmark facility next to the Tacoma Dome.

“This is a world-class museum,” said museum president and CEO David Madeira. “Nothing in North America comes close to it. Nothing.”

ACM christens its opening day on Saturday, June 2, with a grand opening ceremony that starts at 9:45 a.m. Members of the Puyallup Nation will lead a traditional blessing and drum ceremony, followed by remarks from dignitaries including Gov. Chris Gregoire and Nancy LeMay, the widow of Harold LeMay, whose 3,400-vehicle collection created the framework for what is now America’s Car Museum.

The festivities take place on the museum’s 3.5-acre Haub Family Field. At 11 a.m. the museum doors open to the public. Activities include an outdoor car show, food vendors and a beer garden. Seattle Mariners’ legend Edgar Martinez will sign autographs from 1–2:30 p.m. There will also a free concert featuring six-time Grammy Award winners Asleep at the Wheel and Tacoma’s own Kim Archer. The concert swings into action at 5 p.m.

“This is an important event for the Puget Sound region and the City of Tacoma, so we want this opening to be a celebration,” said Madeira. “For all the people who have put their heart and soul into the creation of this beautiful museum, and for all the car lovers and people who like a good party, June 2 will be a great time to experience America’s Car Museum for the first time.”

Even though the legendary Route 66 once ran from Chicago to Los Angeles, Asleep at the Wheel, the country band that helped make the road famous, will instead be traveling from Austin to Tacoma to headline the free concert.

“We wanted a musical act for our grand opening that had wide appeal and Asleep at the Wheel certainly fits the bill,” said Madeira. “With guitarist and lead singer Ray Benson and the rest of ‘The Wheel’ playing all their hits, the mix of country music and all the grand opening festivities will make June 2 a day to remember.”

Formed in 1970, Asleep at the Wheel was named Country Music Band of the Year by Rolling Stone in 1977. The Texas-based group has produced nine albums that reached the Billboard Country Music Top 50 in four different decades and has won six Grammy awards.

Adding to the event, “A Tacoma Museum Collaboration: Vintage Hood Ornaments Created by Museum of Glass” will be on display at the ACM grand opening as well as the Museum of Glass to showcase custom-made replica glass hood ornaments. Glassworker John Miller and MOG artists have created nine hand-blown, 25-inch tall glass sculptures – each inspired by a different vehicle.

Influenced by the stylized hood ornaments found on vehicles like the 1952 Buick 8 Special, 1957 Chevy 210 and 1929 Ford Model A, five of the sculptures will debut at ACM’s grand opening and remain on display throughout 2012. The remainder of the “Classic Heat Collection,” which refers to the classic vehicles that inspired the artwork and the heat used in the glassmaking process, is already on display in the Museum of Glass Hot Shop.

“This unique association has created an exhibit that celebrates what each museum does best,” said Scot Keller, ACM chief marketing and communications officer. “The Museum of Glass is providing the artistry and ACM is providing the inspiration. As such, my expectation is that this collaboration will lead to similar relationships with other cultural organizations in our community.”


The 165,000-square-foot, four-story facility is not only one of the largest car museums in the world, but is the largest celebration of all types of cars and America’s car culture. The four floors, each the size of a football field, will showcase cars and car culture in six exhibits opening weekend that range from “Alternative Propulsion,” such as the Honda Prius and the Ford Leaf and 100-year-old non-gas powered cars, to the “British Invasion” of Austin-Healy, Triumph and Jaguar cars of the 1960s.

The Administration and Education Center will house museum offices, classroom space, library and research archives. This building will contain Club Rooms for member car clubs to use for their events, along with meeting areas and the Concours Club.

The Collector Car Center is home to the “Showcase Galleries,” the “Innovation and Technology Experience,” the State Farm “Theatre-in-the-Round” for car-themed movies and an interactive zone that has a variety of vehicle simulators and hands-on activities. It will also include a theater, classrooms, restaurant, retail store and banquet space for 400 to 500 people. The floor also has a multi-bay garage, where museum vehicles will be preserved and prepared for displays, exhibits or events. Some 700 cars will call the museum’s “Vaults” home. Although not in active displays, these vehicles will be viewable by the public.

The $60 million museum houses cars, trucks and motorcycles from private owners, corporations and the LeMay collection, which amassed a Guinness Book world record of more than 3,500 vehicles in the mid 1990s. The late Harold LeMay, owner of local refuse hauler LeMay Enterprise Inc., spent decades collecting all sorts of cars before his death in 2000. But his legacy of a car museum was well underway by then.

Plans for America’s Car Museum started in 1998 as simply a way to store and showcase the massive collection of all things motorized. Plans grew as the years passed into what is now projected to be an automotive Mecca, set to attract some 500,000 car lovers who will make pilgrimage from around the world to Tacoma to view the collection.

But those world travelers won’t displace the locals who will be the heart of the museum’s success, Madeira said. Local car club activities, community events and concerts will take place on the museum’s 3.5-acre plaza. Drive-in movie nights, go cart races, and concerts, for example, are in the works. Active entertainment at the museum includes slot car racing and driving simulators.

“The museum is the realization of Harold’s dream,” said Harold’s widow, Nancy LeMay, last month when she donated $700,000 to the museum. “It’s absolutely stunning, and the perfect home for so many of his cars.”

The road from concept to reality, has been rocky at times during the 12 year journey. First there were issues about where the museum would be located around Pierce County. Then negotiations for the location that chipped away at the Tacoma Dome’s parking lot. Then came the fundraising efforts to actually build the museum during one of the worst global recessions in history for a museum that would be located outside of Motor City’s front yard in Michigan. But it got done.

“It took a lot of work and a lot of dedicated people,” Madeira said. “But it’s here.”


Admission prices to America’s Car Museum are $14 for adults, $12 for seniors and military, $8 for children and free for children under the age of 5. Discounts are available for Auto Club (AAA) members and State Farm policyholders, who receive 10 percent off the price of admission. Tickets must be purchased in person to receive discounts.

More information about America’s Car Museum can be found at LeMayMuseum.org.


The construction of LeMay – America’s Car Museum supported some 835 jobs, for an economic impact of $204 million. Once operational, the museum is projected to have an annual budget of more than $7 million for labor, materials, rental income and food and retail sales.

The 400,000-500,000 visitors expected to visit the museum each year will bring millions of tourism dollars to Pierce County as well. Total visitor expenditures in Pierce County prompted by the museum are expected to exceed $34 million annually.


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