His father, Fred Meyer, had transitioned from a career selling appliances to owning the small Gearys gift store in Beverly Hills. Bruce was sent to Michigan to train in a department store, then started working in the family business.
Soon he had talked his parents into letting him open a boutique selling candles and incense -- it was the 1960s -- and a mail order business. From candles, the boutique included posters, which turned into a gallery offering original artworks.
When the building came up for sale, Meyer overcame his parents' objections and spent money to acquire the property. That was the first of many real estate investments. Now Meyer's company owns vast holdings in Beverly Hills, Pasadena, Newport Beach and Santa Barbara.
"I didn't have any plan to be a big retail king, or a real estate king," he says. "But when my landlord offered me the building, it seemed the right thing to do."
BIRTH OF THE PETERSEN
Meyer's first new car was a Porsche, but he eventually got a hot rod. Interest in that car, and the proximity of their Beverly Hills galleries, introduced him to Robert Petersen, publisher of Hot Rod magazine.
Their shared obsession with high-powered automobiles led to their partnering with the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum -- both men were board members -- to buy an empty department store property on Wilshire Boulevard and turn it into the Petersen Automotive Museum.
Meyer became its first chairman, and would go on to serve multiple terms as a museum officer. Today the Bruce Meyer Family Gallery features many cars from his private stock.
Meyer insists his personal collection isn't really a "collection," and that he isn't a collector in the traditional sense -- despite the Le Mans-winning Porche 935 and Ferrari 250 GT SWB, the Ferrari 250 TRC Testa Rossa driven by Phil Hill and Carroll Shelby, or the 1932 Ford Hi-Boy coupe he bought from the late Dan Gurney.
"I just buy cars that are attractive to me," he says. "I bought hot rods when people thought they were junk. I never even thought about those as 'collectible.' "