Lee native helped build famous buildings out West

Published Aug 6, 2017 at 9:00am

A Rome-area native, who graduated from Rome Trade School in 1948 and worked at Rome Iron Mills as a welder, used his education and experience here to help build famous and remarkable buildings in California.

The late Paul J. Matt, of Newport Beach, Calif., was born June 1, 1932, in Rome Hospital. He was chairman of MATT Construction, a 250-employee firm responsible for the construction of numerous notable buildings. He died June 30 at the age of 85. He leaves behind a legacy not only in the big city of Los Angeles and elsewhere in California, but also in the small town of Lee, where his brother Karl Matt is a town councilman.

Paul Matt was born in Rome Hospital. His mother was a teacher and his father was a union tradesman and logger. “Paul attended ... the rural one-room schools in the town of Lee,” according to his brother, Alan B. Matt, of California. “He lived in Lee,” where his family bought a farm in 1946, “until he entered the Air Force in 1948,” Matt said. Karl Matt said Paul attended the old stone school house in Lee, and the former Stokes one-room school on Stokes-Lee Center Road.

According to information provided by his family, after serving in the Air Force, Paul Matt worked as a welder on the Dalles Dam in Oregon, where he became fascinated with construction. He earned a structural engineering degree from Oregon Institute of Technology, attending college on the G.I. Bill. He started his professional career in construction as a surveyor for the George A. Fuller Company. In 1962, he was promoted to job superintendent for the Salk Institute in San Diego. Throughout the project, Matt developed innovative approaches in formwork and concrete, and collaborative relationships with the architect and consultants that provided the basis for his philosophy as a builder for the rest his career. 

Matt became a senior executive at C.L. Peck and a member of the company’s board of directors. In 1991, he co-founded MATT Construction with his son Steve, and his brother Al. Over the next 26 years, the company grew from a start-up to a prominent builder in California. At the time of his passing, he was chairman of the board for the company he had founded.

But he was much more than a leader of his business. “Paul kept his family in his heart and mind throughout his life,” according to his family. “He loved the outdoors and spent much time with his family hiking, backpacking and fishing. He was also an avid golfer. When the opportunity came for he and his siblings to create a family legacy by reforesting their Lee Center farm with native New York trees, he enthusiastically promoted the project. It was his fondest wish for his progeny and those of his siblings to keep the farm going and growing throughout their lifetimes.”

The farm, at 9235 Skinner Road, near its intersection with Lee Center-Taberg Road, consists of “about 100 acres,” including “a barn that was used as a dairy farm,” Alan Matt said. The farm is owned by the heirs of Martin and Sarah Matt -- Paul Matt’s parents. It has been farmed in recent years by Karl Matt. Family members have an annual reunion every August.

The farm “has been completely reforested with native species — maple, cherry, walnut, oak, etc.,” Alan Matt said. “This was done as a family legacy project.” Karl Matt said some 18,000 trees were planted on the property, at a cost of about $25,000, and some saplings were donated for use in the Lee Town Park.

On weekends in the first week of May, between 2009 and 2014, as many as 50 people came to help with the tree planting, he said. The farm is a memorial to his parents, Karl Matt said. The harvesting of the trees in years to come will provide “educational funds” for “the third and fourth generations of the family,” he explained, adding that the family farm has a slogan, “Growing a legacy.”

Paul Matt died in June after a nine-week battle with non-Hodgkin’s
lymphoma. He is survived by his second wife, Cathy. He was preceded in death by his first wife Evelyn, and his brothers Leo, Thomas and Theodore. He is survived by his three children with his first wife: Steven (Susan), Colleen (Larry) and Neil, as well as eleven grandchildren and his brothers Francis, Alan, Karl, Vincent and his sister Rose Marie.

Paul’s success in life could be summed up, his family said, by his oft-quoted philosophy: “There is no limit to our success as long as no one cares who gets the credit.”

Anyone who knew Paul Matt is invited to send meaningful memories or photos via email to: PaulMattRemembered@mattconstruction.com.

Some of the many projects for which Matt or the MATT Construction Company are known:

-- The Broad.

This downtown L.A. museum displays the art collection of Eli and Edythe Broad and is near the landmark Walt Disney Concert Hall. It is 120,000 square feet, with about 50,000 square feet of gallery space on two floors.

-- Crystal Cathedral Visitors Center.

This 57,000 square foot, five-level building is a striking modernist design. It includes a 300-seat performing arts theater, a chapel, a large lobby, museum exhibit space, a glass donor wall and a stone donor wall, and a reflecting pool in a courtyard.

-- Salk Institute.

Matt was the job superintendent for this San Diego building, designed by architect Louis Kahn. This was where he developed his skill as a collaborative builder, adopting innovative approaches to formwork and concrete, and acquiring the basis for his philosophy as a builder.

This column was written for the Rome Historical Society by Chip Twellman Haley, retired Daily Sentinel news editor, with photos supplied by MATT Construction, Karl Matt and the Rome Sentinel. Comments, old photos, suggestions for future columns or guest columns may be emailed to: chiphaley@yahoo.com. Copies of the book “Rome Through Our History,” a collection of some of Haley’s columns, may be purchased at the Rome Historical Society.

The Rome Historical Society, 200 Church St., is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Go online at www.romehistoricalsociety.org, visit their Facebook page, or call 336-5870 for more information.