LeMay—America’s Car Museum

LeMay America's Car Museum Entry

Part Parking Garage, Part Vintage Car Museum, Completely Captivating

LeMay maintains over 3,000 cars in its collection, with combined exhibits resulting in one of the largest automobile museums in the world. America’s Museum is located adjacent to the Tacoma Dome, overlooking Thea Foss Waterway—the site having been donated by the city of Tacoma for the sole purpose of building the stunning, four-level facility. The building structure consists of cast-in-place concrete elevated decks and ramps with concrete tilt-up walls, as well as a heavy timber roof structure featuring 5-foot deep glulam arches spanning 100 feet. The Museum’s galleries are purpose-built to efficiently house a rotating collection of 450 vehicles. In addition to rotating gallery spaces, the Museum’s 185,000 square feet include administration space for the LeMay Foundation, a banquet room, lecture halls, a gift shop, a café, and a vehicle maintenance center. Adjacent to the Museum is a 3.5-acre show field and stage, designed for hosting car collector events held throughout the year and the annual LeMay auction.

  • Address: 2702 E D St, Tacoma, WA 98421, USA
  • Status: Completed
  • Client: Harold E. LeMay Museum
  • Architect: Grant Architects
  • Structural Engineer: MKA (Magnusson Klemencic Associates)
  • Size: 165,000 SF

Central to the Museum’s Design: Ramp Galleries

The building structure consists of cast-in-place concrete elevated decks and ramps with concrete tilt-up walls. The gently sloped galleries allow visitors to have a contiguous experience without the interruption stairs or elevators. With a circuitous path of travel, visitors can experience the entire Museum in one continuous walkthrough. Vehicles and exhibits are placed level to the slope, increasing the flexibility and efficiency of the exhibition spaces. Landings at each end of the Museum serve as transitional nodes between the ramp galleries and the storage galleries.

The use of glulam beams was not only an aesthetic decision, but a budget-conscious decision.

A central requirement of of our work was to construct the Museum close to $105 per square foot. To meet this budget challenge, we utilized extensive use of repetitive structural glulam members. The main entry lobby is, on average, over 110 feet in width and 300 feet in length. The heavy timber roof structure features five-foot deep glulam arches spanning 100-feet, wrapped by a curved standing seam aluminum roof. The structured shape, which varies in width from 90 feet to over 110 feet; and in height between 25 feet and 45 feet, was developed from one glue-laminated beam jig and trimmed at different lengths. Our project team was able to achieve these incredible cost savings while still delivering a welcoming, organic design. Additionally, the use of glue-laminated structures also allowed the elimination of any fireproofing associated with buildings of this size.

Press + Awards

  • 2012: AGC Build Washington Awards
  • 2012: Washington Aggregates and Concrete Association’s | Excellence in Concrete Construction – Tilt-up Structures

Project Team