MAIN STREET — Parke Wilson Meek, an accomplished designer and collector who, despite having only a sixth grade education, became an influential furniture maker for the famed Ray & Charles Eames Office in Santa Monica, died Monday at the age of 86.
Meek, who co-owned the eclectic antique store and prop shop jAdis on Main Street for more than 30 years, died of natural causes at Saint John’s Medical Center, said longtime friend and business partner Susan Lieberman.
“He could solve any problem. He could noodle it, figure it out and just had an uncanny ability to solve problems,” said Lieberman, who first met Meek while working at the Eames Office. “I think that was his biggest gift and why his relationship with Charles and Ray was so successful. Plus he just had a terrific attitude.
“It was an honor to have spent so many years with him,” she added. “He was always funny, always interesting and always unique.”
Meek was known as the “go to guy” for any unsolveable problem in any design project and had a love and understanding of design and physics that was astounding given his humble roots. His lifetime of thinking and design efforts can be found in the Museum of Modern Art, Le Louvre, the British Museum and the Smithsonian Institute, said Mel Bloch, a longtime friend of Meek.
“Despite his giant shadow across the face of contemporary design, Park was down to Earth as is humanly possible,” Bloch wrote. “He was self-effacing and modest to the point that few who met him ever knew what an intellectual heavyweight he was.”
Meek was born Jan. 1, 1924 in a small town in rural Indiana. During his youth, he would end up selling liquor out of the back of a taxi cab during prohibition, Bloch said, before moving on to the United States Marine Corps. While stationed at Guadalcanal, Meek was put in charge of a cannon at the young age of 18 because of his mastery of physics, able to aim and shoot better than his superiors.
“He always had a way of making it happen,” Bloch said.
Meek first tasted success in the design field when he created cabinets for a Frank Lloyd Wright project in Fort Wayne, Ind, Lieberman said. Meek moved west and landed a job with Eames after showing the couple the Ford Woody wagon he restored.
Meek was a fixture on Main Street, where he could be seen walking up and down the block with his pocket knife removing flyers and posters, which he considered to be visual blight.
“He didn’t like pay phone booths,” Lieberman said. “He thought they should be made illegal.”
When City Hall floated the idea of building a parking structure off Main Street, Meek fought it, conducting his own research to show that parking lots at the beach could be better utilized and that red zones could be shortened. As the story goes, Meek floated balloons to show merchants and residents how high the structure would be if built, generating opposition.
“Whenever I saw him I felt like Main Street was a community and had a history … where the business owner is actually there and it’s not, ‘Oh yeah, you’ve got to call corporate in New York,’” said Gary Gordon, executive director of the Main Street Business Improvement Association. “He had a fine mind. He would … cut through the B.S. He wanted to cut through the red tape, which of course meant ruffling a few feathers.”
Meek was blunt, Bloch said, never shy to speak his mind. Bloch remembers when a Hollywood celebrity come into his antique shop wanting Meek to build him something. He had plenty of cash to throw around, but Meek kicked him out of the store after he heard how the celebrity spoke to his wife.
“She gave you children and you speak to her like that? Get out of my store,” Bloch remembers Meek saying.
“He was really old fashioned.” Bloch said. “He came from a small town and then lands a job in the Eames office. He was one of a kind.”
Meek is survived by his partner Lieberman; his son Cole Meek; daughter-in-law Debbie; grandsons Tyler and Dylan; cousins Casey, Jeff, Clarke and William Parke Gettinger; hundreds of Meek family members from California to Rhode Island, thousands of friends, and his pals at Finn McCool’s.