The man behind a faded store sign at 52nd Street

In 1960, East Side resident Louis Mattia opened his antique light fixtures business in a small tenement space at 980 Second Avenue. Back then, Manhattan’s design district—in the East 50s along First and Second Avenues—was at its peak.

Showrooms and decorative arts concerns still operate here. But the neighborhood doesn’t resemble the one Mattia likely knew, when the Stuyvesant-educated machinist who worked nights restoring and rewiring lamps decided to open his own store and make his love of lamps his livelihood, according to 1972 Daily News article.

“Whenever Louis Mattia sees an old sconce or candlestick, a discarded table leg, a broken chandelier, or a 50-year-old bubble gum machine, he immediately envisions the lovely light it will shed as a lamp and proceeds to make it,” wrote the News.

“Louis, who is not only a clever artisan but an imaginative artist, looks upon a lamp with the same affection with which a father looks at his child.”

For 35 years, Mattia (above, in a photo from the News story) ran his store, giving it up in 1995. He passed away in 2004 at age 87, according to a death notice in the New York Times.

Mattia may be gone and East Midtown transformed. But for several years now, the beautiful, hand-painted sign for the former lamp store remains on the facade.

“Louis Mattia” the sign reads in large faded gold letters, along with the PL (for Plaza) phone number. It’s a gentle reminder of the man who the Daily News called “buoyant with enormous joy in his art and craft,” the kind of artist and craftsman Manhattan doesn’t seem to have much room for anymore.

[Second image: New York Daily News]

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10 Responses to “The man behind a faded store sign at 52nd Street”

  1. Shayne Davidson Says:

    What a wonderful tribute to both the store and the man!

  2. countrypaul Says:

    I need a Louis Matta here in north central New Jersey for a few older lamps I would love to have restored. We had a vacuum cleaner guy like that until he retired a few years ago. Where have all the intuitive solo craftsmen gone?!?

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Things are made to break and be thrown away within a few years. I’m afraid the Louis Mattias wouldn’t have enough work to keep them going in today’s world.

  3. ironrailsironweights Says:

    According to the past-view feature on Google Street View an awning for 2nd Avenue Art Expo covered the sign as recently as 2012. Between then and the next GSV series in 2014 the awning disappeared and the Matta sign became visible.
    If the building owner rents the space it’s unfortunately possible that the new tenant willl remove or at least cover the Matta signage, but given that the space has been vacant for seven to nine years – there has to be some story behind that – it may not happen for a long time to come.


  4. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I hope not, but I worry. It’s a wonderful sign and an ongoing tribute to shopkeepers like Louis Mattia.

  5. gothamtony Says:

    Another great story! Thanks.

  6. petlover1948 Says:

    I wonder what “DRY USE ONLY” meant? No liquor to be sold? Or dangerous electrical areas???

  7. Outosego Says:

    Wonderful post. Thank you.

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