Full speed ahead: Plans for LeMay museum moving forward

With the Tacoma City Council poised to vote on an agreement next week concerning the building of the much-anticipated Harold E. LeMay car museum, City Club of Tacoma members yesterday toured the world famous automobile collection at Marymount in Spanaway and heard from Eric LeMay about what makes the collection so special.

A record crowd of 97 guests filled the cafeteria of the former Military Academy at Marymount – bought by Harold LeMay from the Catholic Church in 1992 – for a catered dinner and presentation by museum director Eric LeMay, grandson of the late Harold LeMay.

For Eric LeMay, the automobiles in the famed collection are powerful storytellers.

“Every car is a three-dimensional representation of a point in history,” he said.

The bulk of the nearly 3,000 automobiles in the LeMay collection are not high end vehicles that would get high marks at car judging contests, he said, but mostly what the average person drove at a given point in history.

Each automobile has an impact on the culture, technology and design of its time, he said.

“They are a middle class reflection of transportation growth in the 20th century,” LeMay explained.

He said his favorite car in the collection – which includes a mind-boggling number of historic vehicles, including a recently acquired and extremely rare blue 1948 Tucker – is a 1975 AMC Pacer D/L.

Why that car? LeMay said it was Detroit’s first response to the energy crisis of the 1970s and he liked the seafoam green color of the automobile that was popular at the time.

He elicited laughter from the audience when he mentioned that a lot of refrigerators from that time sport that color.

Far more than just a car museum, LeMay wants the new, permanent museum to teach a history lesson of sorts, by making cars from the past relevant to new generations.

“I want us to be known as one of the greatest history museums in the world,” he said.

The City Council will vote next Tuesday on a resolution approving an agreement where the city provides the land and parking – on nine acres in the two lower parking lots west of the Tacoma Dome – and the museum finances the building and provides the collection.

The $50 million total pricetag for the museum that has been reported will actually be closer to $80 to $100 million, said Paul Miller, chair of the LeMay Board.

Plans call for the museum to be the site of between 900 and 1,000 automobiles and other transportation artifacts, LeMay said.

The LeMay collection is recognized by the Guiness Book of World Records as the largest private automobile collection in the world.

The automobiles are housed in nearly 60 non-descript buildings around Pierce County, LeMay noted.

Harold LeMay died at age 81 in November 2000.

LeMay financed his purchases with the fortune he made as the owner of Pierce County Refuse, the 10th largest private refuse hauling company in the United States.

A rally in support of the new LeMay museum will be held at 11 a.m., Aug. 14, at the Tacoma Dome east parking lot, across D Street.

The brief program will include an announcement of the museum’s architect, an update on the land acquisition agreement with Tacoma, the unveiling of the museum’s Tucker and a preview of some of the LeMay collection.

The 25th Annual LeMay Car Show is set for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Aug. 31, at Marymount in Spanaway, located at 423 E. 152nd St. (also known as Old Military Road).

This year’s show will include an auction of over 300 parts, as well as cars and trucks from the 1920s to the 1980s.

Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children.

Tickets can be pre-purchased by calling 253/779-8490 or by visiting the LeMay museum Web site at:


“The prospect for the museum is tremendous,” Miller said. “This collection really belongs to the world.”

It may belong to the world, but people will have to come to Tacoma to experience it.