Santo Matarazzo, who lived on the same Carroll Gardens block since arriving from Italy in the 1950s — and then set about fixing the neighborhood brownstone by brownstone — died on Oct. 23 of cancer. The sculptor, artist, handyman, landlord and beloved neighbor was 79.
When Matarazzo arrived from Italy, he brought little else but a work ethic and an artistic eye, which he promptly put to good use in his first job as a commercial artist building exhibitions at places like Ellis Island, said his daughter, Enza Bloisi. He bought his building, on Union Street between Henry and Clinton streets, for $6,500.
“He was a catalyst in the revitalization of the neighborhood,” his daughter said.
By his own hard work, he showed others how rundown buildings could be transformed into classic townhouses.
“This was like a slum,” Matarazzo once told the New York Times. “Everybody was running away from here. And I say: ‘Why are they leaving? These are beautiful buildings.’ ”
When old age made his renovation work difficult, the so-called “Mr. Brownstone” turned to sculpture. At his death, his artwork filled the home he shared with his wife, Lucia.
Matarazzo did much of the work on this house himself; installing intricate tiles and his signature plaster moldings.
Nearly every available space is occupied by his art. The walls remain full of his paintings, which include a self-portrait, a picture of Jesus, and a Sicilian seascape dated 1952 — a reference, Lucia Matarazzo said, of the year her husband left his homeland.
Other plaster sculptures honored famous or historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Bill Clinton, Muhammad Ali, and, most recently, Barack Obama, the presidential candidate for whom Matarazzo intended to vote.
“He was a true artist and a Renaissance man,” added Maria-Ray Guido of the Guido Funeral Home, and also a friend.
The Matarazzos had a second home in Mastic Beach, on Long Island. Neighbor Stacey Carey said that Santo brought that neighborhood to life as well.
“When May rolled around, my daughter and I would check for signs of activity at his house, waiting excitedly for his and Lucia’s arrival,” she said. “They’re wonderful people.”
Matarazzo’s contribution to the town lives on in the form of a sculpture of William Floyd, a Long Island native who signed the Declaration of Independence. Matarazzo made the piece on his own.
“He created it as a message,” said Carey. “The message was that we have become too caught up in so many things that we really don’t get to know and enjoy what is right in front of us.”
Another such “message” was the bust he made of King, which he offered to install in the plaza in front of Borough Hall. Perhaps now, the offer will be accepted.
Matarazzo is survived by his wife, Lucia; and two daughters, Enza Bloisi and Tina Matarazzo.
Funeral services were on Sunday, Oct. 26 at Green-Wood Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity (344 E. 146th St., The Bronx, NY 10451).