Road trip to a car museum made with wood

LeMay Car Museum in Tacoma. Photo by Jim Culp

If you’re driving north this summer, a cool place to visit just off Interstate 5 in Tacoma, Wash., is America’s Car Museum. Not only is it a great place to view hundreds of vintage cars, it’s a showpiece for wood construction with mass timber – engineered and fabricated right here in Oregon.         

Designed by Los Angeles architect Alan Grant, AIA, of LARGE Architecture, the museum opened in June 2012. Architect magazine described the iconic building as resembling the hood scoop of a vintage Ford Mustang. Inside the four-story, 165,000-square-foot museum are 350 vehicles, a fraction of the collection of late Washington waste-hauling mogul Curtis LeMay, who amassed a Guinness Book record of more than 3,500 vehicles in the mid-‘90s.

According to the museum’s website, “the LeMay-ACM preserves and interprets the history and technology of the automobile and its influence on American culture.” In short, it’s a tribute to America’s love affair with the automobile.

As interesting to me as the cars, however, is the structural support for the museum, which consists of glued, laminated timbers, called glulam beams. Tacoma is no stranger to this mass timber technology, as the nearby Tacoma Dome is one of the world’s largest covered structures made with glulams.

Architect Grant collaborated with Seattle-based engineering firm Magnusson Klemencic Associates (MKA) to design an attractive and efficient roof-support structure using glulam beams. Engineered by Western Wood Structures in Tualatin, Ore., and crafted by American Laminators in Swisshome, Ore., the 19 massive curved beams, spaced 23 feet on center, measure 8¾ inches wide by 52½ inches deep and arc 104 feet over the exhibit space below.

In 2013, America’s Car Museum won a WoodWorks Award for commercial wood design. WoodWorks is an initiative of the Wood Products Council. 

Paul Barnum


Photo credit: Jim Culp,


9755 SW Barnes Rd., Suite 210        
Portland, OR 97225        
Phone: 971-673-2944        
Fax: 971-673-2946

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