August 21, 2004
Chad Lares is running out of garage space for his World War II era military vehicles.
But the crunch may go away. The 34-year-old Chandler resident is looking to open the Museum of Military History in the East Valley, featuring what he says will be the largest display of military artifacts in the western United States.
Lares with the help of his father, Chris, 56, of Chandler, has collected about 70 military vehicles, more than 100 firearms, uniforms and other equipment to develop a military history display from 1775 to the present with the assistance from other members of the Arizona Historic Military Transport Association.
But first Lares must secure a location — his first choice is a downtown Gilbert site —and raise about $3 million to construct the planned 80,000-square-foot museum.
Andrew Kramer is one of four members of the museum’s board of directors that incorporated earlier this year.
"We’ve been working on the idea for a couple years and it’s really just starting to come together," Kramer said.
Lares, a former Arizona Department of Corrections employee now working full time on the museum planning, has three World War II-era military vehicles stored in his garage, including a German half-track used in the filming of "Saving Private Ryan" and the HBO series "Band of Brothers." Both he and his father, a 20-year Air Force veteran and avid collector who will be the museum’s director, have extensive collections of firearms and uniforms.
Lares — who first took an interest in military equipment as a small child — said he’s also received a commitment from European towns and museums to obtain 12 rare American, British and German World War II era tanks, and he hopes to include an aircraft and helicopter.
Other artifacts will come from Arizona Historic Military Transport Association members such as Gilbert’s Steve Goebel, who has restored a 1942 DUKW amphibious vehicle and just purchased a World War II era searchlight that beamed light 10 miles into the sky to spot airplanes.
"We’re actually saving history," Goebel said.
Lares, who spent four years in the Army and served during the Persian Gulf War, said the museum is for the "average Joe." He said he is not promoting war, but rather preserving history and honoring those who have served. Lares said the vehicles will not just sit "collecting dust," but be available for parades, school visits and other events.
Lares’ first choice for the museum location is the vacant 8-acre parcel on the southeast corner of Gilbert and Elliot roads. Gilbert owns the land, which has a deed restriction limiting it to non-commercial use.
Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman said he offered his support to the project locating at the downtown intersection, but first the town would need to see a formal proposal that includes how the museum will be funded and operated.
"I’d like to put something there to draw people to downtown Gilbert and a well-done museum would do that," Berman said.