LeMay-America's Car Musuem


of an Exhibition

by Mallory Martin

Published on July 03, 2012

  • Description:

    In June of 2012, America’s Car Museum opened in Tacoma, WA. Tacoma is not a new venue for vintage and collectible cars as Harold and Nancy LeMay, locals who had a long standing garbage business in Tacoma, keep the 1,500 cars in the family collection and run their foundation at Tacoma’s Marymount Event Center. After Harold’s passing Nancy LeMay continues to host events and work with the foundation.

    The LeMay Family Collection Foundation and Marymount Events Center has housed the LeMay family vehicles over the years until the opening of a new museum in which some cars in the collection were given or placed on loan. LeMay-America’s Car Museum is a drastic change for those visitors who remember and visit the Family Collection and Events Center. The Events Center has a series of out buildings (some with no heat or air) which are opened by volunteer tour guides who are as old or older than some of the vehicles in the collection, but certainly, as endearing and memorable. The smell of damp musk permeates the air at the Family Collection site; one can feel as though they have stepped off the gravel path into a treasure trove of antique and collectibles. The tour guides add a personal touch and offer many anecdotes about the cars in the collection.

    By contrast LeMay-America’s Car Museum is a vast building complete with eight galleries that slope along the sides of the buildings four floors. The metal building, located next to the iconic Tacoma Dome feature a sleek roly-poly shape that is certainly eye catching. The interior white walls allow the colors of the cars to pop and the body style and features to be highlighted.

    I visited the museum on a Friday afternoon, two hours before closing with my father and fellow ‘car person’ who flew in from Colorado for the occasion. We are currently volunteers at the LeMay Family Collection and Foundation (in addition to being proud car collectors) and were very excited to see parts of the collection on display and explore the new location. Families with smaller children were also visiting the museum in addition to older couples who could be heard reminiscing about “when I was 18 and drove that car to my first job,” “when I heard that engine for the first time, ” or exclaiming “I bought that car for 150.00!”

    There is something about cars, the look, touch and sound that bring back strong memories for people. Americans spend a large majority of time in our cars and as such are bound to have them around when we experience moments of great happiness and sadness, over time they can be fixtures of our identity. LeMay-America’s Car Museum helps capture and explore our identity and fascination with cars.

    Just with the stories overheard form other visitors some of the text panels reflected a personal note about the car on display. ”This Car Matters” text panels showed authentic pictures of the vehicle with historical figures like FDR and facts about the make and model. Whether historical or modern cars tell us information about the time period and the people who use them, seeing text panels that reflected the importance of the vehicle in automotive history was a profound feature of the new space.
    Digital signs were also used in the galleries to expand content and highlight first person accounts of the car, a great feature for those of us who have difficulty reading the small text that is often attached to a label.

    The historical context of Ferrari, ‘The British Invasion,’ and the Indy 500 was supplemented by the use of raceway and engine sounds, a feature especially helpful for the younger audience who don’t yet have the associations with cars like to adults do, they just know they go fast and are exciting. Features such as a NAPA car care lab and racing video games helped to break up the gallery space and provide a visual highlight at the end of each gallery.

    Overall I was impressed with the space and exhibit content, as with any museum space there is so much information one can easily return again and again and learn something new. I most certainly will return to LeMay-America’s Car Museum with friends and family in tow.

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