The window- cleaning bill at Main Street shop Jadis in Santa Monica must be huge. So many people have leaned against the glass to peer at Parke Meek's seldom-open, oddity-packed domain. The word
in French refers to a period that is romantically distant. In Meek's crowded aisles, the romance includes the future as well as the past. Is that a Tesla coil hulking in the shadows? Do the aged black telephones work?
Part old curiosity shop, mainly a prop house, Jadis is a monument to Meek's lifelong fascination with the improbable possible. The Tesla coil is a scale model, but a real cabinet generator designed by the visionary
— father of alternating current, inventor of remote radio-controlled devices in the 1890s, before anyone had a radio — sits just inside the door.
Collectors nurse the hope that something of their spirit flows into their hodgepodge. Certainly Meek, who died in early January at 86, remains a presence in the darkened store. When its contents go on sale Sunday , the first step toward the closing of the store, it doesn't seem unreasonable to expect that a glimmer of Meek's delight will travel with them. Meanwhile, in the shop window, tin-can locomotives crouch beside a massive vault door. If a passerby is lucky, someone inside will throw the switch. Wheels will turn, whistle-flaps rise. The window will wake up.
Meek had already led several lives when he opened Jadis in 1976 with his partner, Susan Lieberman. A skilled carpenter and self-taught engineer, he'd parlayed an
grade-school education and a
stint in the Marines into jobs with architect
, geodesic dome creator Buckminster Fuller and Midcentury design legends Charles and Ray Eames. According to Lieberman, the Eameses hired Meek in the 1950s on the strength of the rebuilt Ford woody that Meek drove to the interview. He stayed for nearly three decades, moving from the furniture department to the studio's film and exhibition projects.
Lieberman met Meek when she was a young receptionist in the Eames office. She remembers their first meeting: "I see this guy with the ponytail and the tank top and the jeans and a leather belt with a big question mark on it. He put a foot on my desk, and he said, 'Hi, I'm Parke.'"
Describing herself at the time as "kind of a New England girl," Lieberman thought, "He must be very good at what he does to look like that in a place like this."
According to a former colleague, film art director Jeannine Oppewall, Meek "understood how to relax and let his hands take over the thinking." Oppewall, whose credits include "L.A. Confidential," was one of several Eames alumni who spoke at Meek's crowded April memorial. Another was graphic designer Deborah Sussman. Meek, she says, was not only "super, super" technologically gifted but also had an eye for magic. When the two worked together creating sets for a 1975
concert in Inglewood, Sussman remembers Meek carefully painting all the rigging strings black so their designs would seem to float above the stage. "Parke," Sussman says, "knew the difference between OK and great."
In Jadis' depths, a staircase that Meek designed, its sleek double helix formed from Eamesian steam-curved laminate, twists upward to a mezzanine. There,
, his suit a rich and velvety black, cavorts on the original stone lithograph poster for "By the Sea."
The staircase, Meek's friend Mel Bloch explains, is theoretically impossible. It mounts higher in a narrower space than the physics of tread and riser are supposed to allow. Meek accomplished the feat by cutting the stair treads into paddle shapes. Reasoning that only one foot needs to be on a stair at a time, he laid the paddles so the cutout spaces alternated. That way the leg standing on the lower tread could rise beside, not behind, the one on the upper, and the steps could be closer together.
Accumulation was as important to Meek as invention. As he put it to one interviewer, "The one who dies with the most useless junk wins." He was already, as a child in Indiana, hoarding alley finds that caught his fancy. His parents, Lieberman says admiringly, never complained. In the 1960s, while still with the Eameses, he opened Ephemera on what's now Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Lieberman calls it L.A.'s first vintage clothing store, and the Rolling Stones were customers. Like Jadis, the shop was open only a few hours a week, adding to its allure.
Constructions like the vault door, its painted wood and scavenged fittings assembled by Meek with the aid of vintage photographs, were his brilliant solution to supporting his collecting habit. Having worked with the Eameses on films, Meek "knew what would look good on camera," Lieberman says. Prop rentals were "a fabulous little business, because he could collect the stuff, he could build stuff, he could rent it out, make money on it." Best of all, he got everything back. Film sets that Meek enhanced include "The Prestige," "Van Helsing," "Batman and
" and the third "Austin Powers" movie.
Lieberman's own passion runs to textiles. Originally she had them in Jadis alongside the tools, but when the shop next door became vacant, she moved her collection of linen and lace there. It was Meek who suggested the Art Nouveau décor for the store she named Paris 1900 — and he built the window's flowing wooden tracery.
Releasing Jadis' inventory "to the universe" is hard for her too, Lieberman says. Objects hold memories of the pair's annual collecting trips, most of them to Meek's native Midwest.
"We used to go to farmhouses where the wife would have a little antique store on the side," she says.
Lieberman remembers those shopping stops.
"If I saw something I wanted but was unsure, he would say, 'You should trust your judgment,'" Lieberman says. "He never said no."
She nods toward Jadis' crowded interior — the specimen cases of brilliant butterflies, the dozens of antique globes, the stuffed stag's head with chimes mounted on its antler points, a piece known in the shop as a Bockenspiel, bock being German for buck.
"The flip side of that," she says, "is we kind of encouraged each other."
The sale at Jadis, 2701 Main St., Santa Monica, begins at 11 a.m. Sunday; closing time will be determined that day. Additional sale days are expected for about the next month. Contact (310) 396-3477 or
for sale hours and days. Prices start around $10. Cash and credit cards accepted. Among the thousands of items on sale will be 19th century scientific instruments, silent movie-era posters, globes, books and phones.