Wednesday, February 25, 2015

On the Road: LeMay Family Collection

by Nancy DeWitt
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

I recently traveled to Seattle, Washington, for a vacation and decided to spend a day visiting the two LeMay museums in Tacoma. I started off at the LeMay Family Collection at Marymount, which is less well known than the newer and flashier LeMay – America’s Car Museum next to the Tacoma Dome.

Harold LeMay made his fortune hauling garbage, and it’s clear that he loved to spend his money on old cars and trucks. It doesn't appear that there was a particular theme to his collecting--if it was an old vehicle, he wanted it! That is reflected at Marymount. The numerous cars seem to be arranged rather randomly, and many lack signs or much information about them. Still, it is incredible collection to see, and this history of the Marymount facility is as interesting as the cars. I really enjoyed my visit.

The original buildings were all part of the Marymount Military Academy run by the Sisters of St. Dominica from 1923-1975. Eric LeMay, one of Harold’s grandsons, gave me a behind-the-scenes tour of the former housing complex, chapel, visiting priest’s quarters, and miscellaneous collections that aren't open to the public (though the chapel and some rooms are rented out for events). The cars are displayed and stored in the old gymnasium, auditorium, swimming pool, indoor rifle range, shower room, and several newer storage buildings. Expect a surprise each time you round a corner into another room.

I had been told I would see warehouses filled with cars, many fork lifted onto shelves, and parked so tightly that it was hard to fully appreciate them. The cars were indeed packed into the warehouses, but it was still fun to cruise the rows of trucks and automobiles looking for favorites. It's amazing how many marques and styles you will find. There is more elbow room in the main Red Building, and the gymnasium is quite spacious. I had to chuckle at the cars parked up in the bleachers!

You won't learn a lot about automobile history at this museum by reading signs, but they have excellent docents to fill in the blanks. And you will be blown away with the sheer number and variety of cars and how their styles changed over time. There are some very nice and rare vintage vehicles in the collection--Harold LeMay had a good eye and his vehicles here are very well preserved. I especially loved seeing trucks that I had never heard of before, and how could I not love the stiletto art car? Sweet Tucker, too. There's something for everyone here, including some interesting memorabilia and even a few vintage fashions.

Do go if you get the chance. And stay tuned for a post about the LeMay - America's Car Museum.

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