State of the Museum

LeMay – America’s Car Museum President and CEO David Madeira examines the ups and downs of the Tacoma, Wash., ‘destination’ as it enters its third year of operation

TACOMA, Wash. (June 3, 2014) — LeMay – America’s Car Museum (ACM) embarks on its third year in June.  Situated between Seattle and Mt. Rainier atop a hill in Tacoma, ACM has attracted approximately 400,000 visitors from 50 states and more than 40 countries since opening in June 2012, has rotated exhibits (ranging from 60 Years of Corvette to A Trip Down Route 66) and is hosting its Wheels & Heels Annual Gala on June 7.

David Madeira, ACM President and CEO, takes a look at how the four-story, 165,000 sq. ft. museum has been progressing, its trio of spring/summer “signature events” and examines the project’s future.

Q: ACM embarks on its third year this month.  How would you assess the Museum’s sophomore year and the prospects for the future?

A: “Going back to the beginning, we successfully launched our building – with a stellar grand opening (June 2012), huge crowds, phenomenal media coverage and glowing reviews.  Our first year attracted 225,000 visitors, which was outstanding. Then, as expected, our numbers declined in year-two, which is what happens to most attractions after the excitement of an opening year.

“As we start our third season this summer, with new exhibits like Masters of Mustang (opening June 14), plus our (June 7) Wheels & Heels Annual Gala, (Aug. 22-24) Vintage Motorcycle Festival and (Sept. 7) Pacific Northwest Concours d’ Elegance, we’ll begin to move back in a more positive direction.  And year-four is typically when museums stabilize in terms of budget, staffing levels and attendance.

“We have established a solid foundation.  Once people come to the Museum, they ‘get it.’ Everyone remembers their first car, family driving vacations, a sports car they fell in love with as a teenager.  Personal experiences with cars are at the heart of the American experience and at the soul of ACM.  We’re featuring more than a century of automotive lifestyle and history as well as the future of transportation.  America’s Car Museum has truly become a travel destination, attracting visitors from every U.S. state and around the world.”

Q: What measures are being incorporated to continue the Museum’s growth and financial well-being?

A: “Our first job was to build ACM.  Our second job is to make this place thrive.  We’ve been good stewards of our resources so far, learning how to efficiently run the building and fine-tuning our operation. And the visitor experience is great.

“Regional and partner promotions are key to driving attendance. A broad array of member activities and benefits—such as discounted pricing for all major events—also will enhance growth. Real financial strength, however, will only come when we raise an endowment. Everyone thinks, ‘You’ve opened the building, so everything is running nicely and you don’t need any more assistance.’ The reality is, there’s not a museum in America that thrives without donor support. We need a blend of regular donations and larger endowment commitments to attain true viability. We recently launched a planned giving program and already picked up a bit more than $3 million in endowment commitments, but we need to launch a serious endowment campaign in the near future.“

Q: What projects have been initiated that distinguish ACM from other car museums?

A: “The Hagerty Education Program at America’s Car Museum (HEP) is a great initiative, central to our vision and differentiates us from most car museums that focus on presenting the founder’s collection to the public. HEP exemplifies how we’re taking a broader approach. While honoring our founder, our vision is to promote America’s automotive heritage and thereby present stories and experiences to which the larger community, not just enthusiasts, can relate.

Through the Hagerty Education Program, we are ensuring that the skills necessary to preserve and restore vintage autos (and wooden boats) are transmitted to the next generation. HEP provides grants to organizations that train young people in these skills and, importantly, gives scholarships for students to enroll in these programs and prepare for careers in the field. Significantly, we’re also providing apprenticeships for young people to train under the tutelage of master craftsmen to obtain the hands-on training critical to their future work.”

Q: Education seems to be a major focus for ACM …

A: “All museums have kindergarten through 12th grade programs. Our Family Zone and Education Lab, which opened last November, is a great success. We offer numerous curriculums and had about 30,000 young people visit ACM last year. The program is growing and we’re proud of what we offer families.

The Hagerty Education Program, though, takes education even further; it’s our commitment to ensure that young people who are interested in full-time careers in vintage auto and boat restoration and preservation obtain the proper education to pursue these careers. ACM’s commitment to the collector community is to place the Museum at the center of the movement to preserve America’s automotive treasures and promote its heritage.

“Public schools are not providing adequate training of this nature, so we’ve decided to support institutions like McPherson College and the International Yacht Restoration School of Technology and Trades, which are equipping young people with the skills that can be applied to vehicle preservation.  Today’s professionals in the field need young people to join their shops and continue their work.  Frankly, it’s this educational mission that sets ACM apart and should compel everyone who cares about vocational training or our automotive heritage to ‘join the movement’ and support the Museum and HEP.”

Q: ACM has three “Signature Events” for 2014…

A: “Our Vintage Motorcycle Festival is one of the larger motorcycle meets in the country.  Burt Richmond, the event chairman, has been running motorcycle tours all over the world, and he’s helped attract as many as 300 classic bikes that will be on the ACM show field.  There will be several thousand participants, and the second day will include a ride for about 150 bikes to Mt. Rainier and back.

“The Pacific Northwest Concours d ’Elegance (formerly the Kirkland Concours d ‘Elegance) is a weekend that has grown to become one of the top concours’ in the country.  Like the Amelia Island event, we’re a bit eclectic, with a Tour d’ Jour on Friday (Sept. 5), great classic cars, a BMW motorcycle class, hot rods, a Shelby Mustang class and broad appeal that makes this event more than a classic car Concours.

“And our Wheels & Heels Annual Gala is a huge promotional event and fundraiser that is a lot of fun, not just another black-tie affair.  Every year has a theme and this time the Museum will become a Brazilian CARnivale!, with salsa bands, gourmet cuisine, a Montecristo cigar tent, body painters, aerialists, and spectacular live and silent auctions that include a day in a Formula One car during a race in France, a trip to the 2015 Indy 500 and much more.

“ACM is more than a museum; we’re a true destination.  As such, we’re going to continue our drive-in movie series this summer with three events, which usually attract about 300 cars a night, and we’ll likely have a music concert within the next few months. In 2015 we’ll add a winter event that won’t be a big-ticket item or fundraiser.  It will simply be affordable fun.  It’s tentatively called ‘Drive Away the Blues,’ and will be a beach party … in February.”

Q: What sort of response has ACM received from Nancy LeMay, who, along with her late husband, conceived the idea of a car museum in Tacoma?

A: “Nancy LeMay has told me numerous times that she’s delighted with the new museum.  She fully understands that a project like this out in Tacoma, Wash., has to market itself differently; it has to be a destination by moving beyond car museum norms. Additionally, Nancy continues to serve on our board along with her son Doug.  She continues to provide significant financial support and remains committed to making the Museum a success.  She’s giving generously to us and is very proud of the Museum that bears the family name.”


About LeMay – America’s Car Museum (

LeMay – America’s Car Museum, which opened June 2, 2012 in downtown Tacoma, Wash., explores how the automobile has fulfilled a distinctive role at the core of the American experience and shaped our society. The spacious Museum with rotating exhibits is designed to be the centerpiece for automotive history as well as an educational center and library. The campus, located adjacent to the Tacoma Dome, also contains a 3.5-acre show field, theatre, café, banquet hall and meeting facilities. To get information on Museum hours, becoming an ACM member, volunteer opportunities or to make a donation, visit

PCG – Jeff Green ( 424-903-3661
ACM – Ashley Bice ( 253-683-3954