Collector Cars: An Auto Heaven in Tacoma

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Museum to have largest group of historic vehicles

By EVAN MCMULLEN
SPECIAL TO THE P-I

If you’re an old-car enthusiast, it apparently won’t be long before you’ll be able to point your hood ornament south on Interstate 5 and cruise to antique-auto heaven … in Tacoma.

The LeMay collection of about 2,600 cars is the world’s largest aggregation of historical vehicles — and it will soon be housed in a world-class home.

Propelled by broad support from around the nation, the Harold E. LeMay Museum is poised for a 2007 groundbreaking on a $100 million-plus, 500,000-square-foot palace next to the Tacoma Dome.

Museum Chief Executive Officer David Madeira and Harold LeMay’s widow, Nancy LeMay, expect it to open as early as 2009 as the Smithsonian of the burgeoning collector-car world, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors each year and supporting an array of educational and community activities.

It’s not quite fair to describe the museum’s progress as an overnight success. After all, Harold and Nancy LeMay quietly and persistently accumulated the collection over the course of a generation. But the museum concept has developed at an accelerated pace since a corporation for that purpose was formed in 1998. The 9-acre site was secured by 2002, and architect Alan Grant of Grant Architects began work on the design in 2003.

Since then, the Madeira-led team has taken LeMay from quiet development to a high-visibility campaign with national reach. And since 2004, when it displayed an impeccable 1930 Duesenberg J to thousands of Seattle fans at an auction, LeMay has been visible at almost every auto event throughout the region.

In addition to alliances with local events such as the Kirkland Concours d’Elegance and the Ehli Turners May Collector Car auction, coming up May 13 (see related story), the museum today has gathered strong corporate support and sponsors a wide range of commercial and non-profit events.

LeMay is exhibiting and networking throughout the country, including recent exhibitions in New York and Detroit. (The exhibit at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit included a 1948 Chevrolet Fleetline custom “woodie,” a 1963 Corvette Sting Ray and a 1964 Pontiac GTO convertible.)

As a result, the museum has secured about $40 million in private pledges and $8 million in commitments from the state. The museum’s site, valued at $17.5 million, was provided by the city of Tacoma.

Enthusiasm for the project runs high. A local group called the “Committee to Transform Tacoma” filed an initiative last month to close down the Tacoma Dome and give all of its buildings, facilities and parking to the LeMay Museum. The museum does not support the initiative.

Although it will be a few more years until the museum’s doors open, part of the collection may still be viewed. Two-hour tours by trained docents may be booked through the museum’s Web site, www.lemaymuseum.org, or by calling 253-536-2885.