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LeMay-zing

HUD, the nation's housing agency, has just gone into the car business. Well, sort of...

Born in Yakima, at 18 months the late Harold LeMay moved to Tacoma where he lived and prospered for the rest of his 81 years. His business was refuse and recycling. But his passion was the automobile.

So much so, in fact, that he and his wife Nancy would amass more than 3,000 automobiles, motorcycles, trucks and other vehicles. It was, declared The Guinness Book of World Records, the "largest privately-owned collection" of automobiles "in the world." It's "the most extraordinary collection I've ever seen," noted Molly Carsten, curator for the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis, "a gem in the crown of American automotive history."

For years, most of the collection has been housed on the LeMay estate. On the last Saturday in August, however, the LeMay family traditionally has opened the gates and allowed the general public to view their collection. Rain or shine, their once-a-year open houses have always drawn big crowds.

The good news is that even more people will soon have the chance to see the LeMay's one-of-a-kind collection. That's because, thanks to the City of Tacoma's decision to okay a HUD-guaranteed Section 108 loan guarantee and Department of the Treasury New Market tax credits, the collection is about to get a brand new, permanent home - the LeMay America's Car Museum across the street from the Tacoma Dome and just north of Interstate 5.

Ground was broken in June 2010. Designed by Grant Architects of Los Angeles, the 165,000 square foot Glass Pavilion will feature an education center, dining facilities, innovation and technology galleries, a Racing in the Round theater and space to display 250 automobiles in the 2,300 vehicle collection - from a 1916 Pierce-Arrow Brougham to a 1956 Messerschmitt KR200, from a 1970 Oldsmobile 442 to a 1983 DeLorean DMC 12. "Our love of the automobile," added Washington Governor Chris Gregoire at the event, "is not just about shine and speed. These cars reflect us as a society."

"Harold would love the design, the way it suggests a car, and most importantly, that it is designed to become a gathering place for the community," said Nancy LeMay. "I believe this is a great vision and that we can and will get it done."

It'll also be great news for the Puget Sound economy. The $60 million project will mean thousands of construction jobs and 90 permanent jobs once the Museum opens in the fall of 2011. It's expected to attract some 425,000 visitors a year and to pump some $34 million annually into the local economy.

"HUD is proud to be a partner in this project," said Mary McBride, HUD's Northwest Regional Administrator, "which on opening day will join The Space Needle, Mt. Rainier and the Orcas in Puget Sound on the "must-see" list when people visit western Washington."

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Content Archived: December 13, 2013

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