Remembering Tom Phillips

Artist Tom Phillips (right) with Mrs. Mary Thomas (left) widow of Assemblyman Vincent Thomas, photographed at the Arcade Building in historic downtown San Pedro beside the original painting of “The Cinematic Bridge,” commissioned by festival director Stephanie Mardesich for the key art for the first official poster for the L.A. Harbor International Film Festival (LAHIFF), April 2004. (photo courtesy of LAHIFF)

Tom Phillips was happiest in his studio, painting. He was considered a bit of an introvert, and his love of art seemed to overshadow most other areas of his life. But it was this mindset, and dedication, that put Phillips on the map – early and often.

Until May of this year, when Phillip’s life tragically ended due to post-surgical complications after a lung procedure, he could always be found creating something – he could always be found pushing the limits of his artistic ability.

“He was selectively reclusive, his world outside of painting consisted of a small group of high school friends, myself and our son,” says Laura Davidson, Phillip’s ex-wife. “But he was very in tune with what he wanted to do and when he wanted to do it.”

With strong roots in San Pedro, and a lineage that can be traced back four generations to Southern California, it is no wonder that in the final stages of Phillips’s career, as well as some of his beginning work, he focused on painting pictures of his beloved city.

“He was very proud of his family and where he came from,” Davidson says. It was this love, shared through art, that have made Phillips’s paintings so iconic in San Pedro. From the decorating of the walls of the San Pedro Brewing Co., to his painting of the “Cinematic Bridge” that became the poster image of the Los Angeles Harbor International Film Festival, Phillips made is mark in San Pedro, and he made it through his painting.
After his passing in May, Davidson, their son, and Ron Sesco, owner of The Distinctive Edge Gallery, joined together to host a gallery in Phillips’s honor, to “cement recognition for his work.”

“Tom was one of San Pedro’s most renowned artists of the last 30 years and will be missed and remembered alongside the likes of Violet Parkhurst,” says Sesco. “Tom chronicled the essence of San Pedro history through his paintings of historical local buildings and landmarks that bring great memories of the past. His paintings also included farmland area of the Palos Verdes Hill where his great grandfather, Harry Phillips Sr., worked as a foreman on the Bixby Ranch in the early 20th century.”

“After his death, we found pieces he was working on and they were exciting,” Davidson says. “We were in awe.”
Upon deciding the date of October 27 for the show’s reception, Davidson, her son, and Sesco, whose gallery will host the event, are collectively deciding what works to feature. “This show is a celebration and recognition of his life. It’s for his clients to be able to come and view his work from beginning to end,” says Davidson. “It will be the fruits of his labor on the walls.”

Phillips, a native of San Pedro, was a man which life afforded many opportunities, who chose to live and die an artist in its truest form. His familial roots firmly planted in the ground of San Pedro, he kept this city forever close to his heart and made it an integral part of his work, says Davidson.

Phillips ex-wife speaks volumes on the life and work of her late husband. Their marriage ended amicably, resulting in one son. Davidson, who also has a background in art and a career in art galleries, says Phillips career took off almost immediately. “When his career first took off, it was at a furious pace. Everything he painted, he sold,” she remembers fondly. “He showed at the National Academy of Design in New York, two years in a row, on first submissions, which is unheard of. It’s an honor just to get in, let alone show work two years in a row, for a newcomer.”

When she saw his work at the beginning, she wondered why he wasn’t painting professionally – at this time he was pursuing a career in business law. This quickly changed, as Phillips followed his heart and dreams and was quickly rewarded with amazing opportunities. One of those opportunities came after an art show featuring three artists in the home of Sharon Disney.

“They wanted him to be part of WED Enterprises, doing illustrations and artwork, this was when EPCOT was being built at Disneyland,” Davidson says. “During his show in Sharon’s home, big wigs present, he was quickly offered a gig.” Although a tremendous career turn, Phillips declined in the interest of having sole responsibility of his work and his career. Davidson says that was one of many difficult decisions that paid off.

His career started booming, and around 1974, with Phillips selling paintings as fast as he could finish them, he was commissioned to do ranch pieces. Gene Autry even had a painting done by Phillips in his collection. Yet, even with such success, Davidson remembers these beginnings as humble. She says they were selling paintings out of their home, entertaining future buyers with “wine and cheese parties, and enjoying the rapid pace of life.”

A graduate of one of the best fine art schools in the United States – Art Center College of Design in Pasadena – Phillips knew that perfecting his technique, and always being open to learning new things was important to a life dedicated to art.

“His roots were always here,” says Davidson. “He loved San Pedro, and painting this city was always some of his best work.”

Now, as Davidson, their son, and Sesco, prepare to honor Phillips and his work one last time, they remember fondly the talent and drive he had.

“Picking the pieces to feature has been a real challenge,” explains Davidson. “We want the community, his clients, and those that never met him to have a chance to view the work that was his life. This gallery, this showing of his work, is the cement that will keep his name and his work in San Pedro forever.” spt

Tom Phillips (1948-2012) Exhibit & Sale Reception is Oct. 27, 5-8pm at The Distinctive Edge Picture Framing & Gallery (29050 S. Western Ave., Suite 113, Rancho Palos Verdes). Serious buyers & collectors, please call (310) 833-3613 for a preview and information.

ON THE COVER: Half a Century of Family Pride

Multiple Generations of the Mattera family: back row: Sabrena Sasso, Vince Mattera, Jr., Renee Mattera-Camello, Susan Mattera, Mariea Mattera, Gennaro Camello, Matt Mattera; front row: Natalie Mattera, Vanessa Camello, Angie Mattera, Nicolette Mattera, Noelle Mattera. Picture frame: Vince Mattera, Sr. (Not pictured: Malissa Moran) (photos by John Mattera)

For the Sorrento family, it has always been about hard work, and with that came dedication to a family business that started small and has now become a staple in San Pedro.

The Mattera family has always stood not only behind, but with their father. Each of them grew up in the business, and all had the same goal – be a part of the business to the end. Eating, sleeping and breathing Sorrento’s Pizza House, the name it was founded under in 1962, has been the family motto. But as the dream grew, so did the restaurant, and with growth came a name change — Sorrento’s Italian Restaurant.

It started as a small, quaint restaurant focused on pizza, pasta and sandwiches. But it has grown into a large restaurant, with an extensive Italian menu. Mattera Sr. took the growth in stride, grew his staff and used the growth to instill in everyone he could his ideals of hard work and dedication.

“My husband always felt that work kept everyone out of trouble,” Mattera’s wife, Angie says. “In his mind, it was never too early for a kid to learn about work ethic – it was never too early to learn the value of a dollar.” This was true until the day he died. But he didn’t want to just instill these ideals into his children and his family, but to the community of San Pedro, as well.

Mattera Sr. retired from the restaurant in 2007, but even after he handed the reins over to his family, he was still a fixture. So upon his passing in July of 2011, his loss not only hit his family, but the entire community that had grown to know and love him.

Mattera’s wife describes him as a hard working, dedicated, family man. She says that he left not only his family, but also all those who had the privilege of knowing him, valuable life lessons, and amazing food. Even after his passing, the family carried on the tradition of good, hearty, Italian cuisine through the dream that Mattera started 50 years ago.

His personal motto: Whatever job you have, whether large or small, you must do to the best of your ability. It’s this motto that his family hopes to continue to instill in their staff and their beloved San Pedro community. Angie Mattera says that as times change, and generations pass, so does the pride in that one used to take in their work.

“We always believed in instilling a strong work ethic in our children, and any employee whose path we were fortune enough to cross,” she says. “Every single employee at Sorrento’s is valuable and important, and that goes for every job out there.”

Murals of Italy decorate the interior of the restaurant.

Sorrento’s Italian Restaurant, a true family-run business, was the epitome of hard work – and it’s this that will be celebrated during the restaurant’s upcoming 50th anniversary in October.

The Sorrento family members have become pseudo-celebrities in San Pedro through the years. Each and every member of the Sorrento family has been involved in the restaurant in some way or another since its inception.

Renee Mattera, Vince’s daughter, fondly remembers being recognized in Las Vegas as the “spaghetti girl.”

“I’ll never forget it,” she says. “I was walking through a casino in Las Vegas, and a lovely old couple recognized me. The gentleman said, ‘Look, there’s the spaghetti girl,’” she recalls.

But it’s not just the family and Italian food that brings Sorrento’s the attention; it is also their generous contributions to the community through various donations and fundraisers.

“Over the years, we have done quite a few fundraisers, and we have tried to donate to as many causes as we can,” says Mariea Mattera, wife of Vince Mattera, Jr., the current General Manager. “San Pedro has always been our home and we take pride in being able to give back the community that has given us so much.”

Although giving back is an important part of reaching the heights of success in any business, it certainly isn’t what has kept the restaurant going for 50 years. When asked what the most important part of Sorrento’s longevity of success, the family all says with great pride, “portions.”

Vince Mattera, Sr., from the beginning, was a fixture in the kitchen. His wife says he loved to cook, whether at the restaurant, at home or at a friend’s place, he was “at home in the kitchen.” The recipes that make up Sorrento’s menu were all Vince’s, his family says.

“Early in his career he was appointed one of the cooks on a fishing boat,” Renee Mattera says. “He was young, but he loved it and that is really where his passion started. We grew up watching our dad in the kitchen.”
Mariea Mattera adds, “All the grandchildren spent their time watching him cook, they found it way more interesting that cartoons.”

With portions this big, it’s tough to walk out of Sorrento’s hungry.

Passing these recipes on, and teaching and molding his staff was never a problem for Vince. He communicated each and every recipe and worked with his staff until it was perfect. It was this communication and camaraderie that kept his staff coming back. The majority of the employees at Sorrento’s have been a part of the “family” for years – they are as loyal as can be, Angie Mattera says.

Rod Hernandez, for example, has been one of our cooks for 28 years,” she says. “We appreciate our staff, they are our family, and they are a big part of our success.” It is this loyalty that the family says has meant the most to them throughout the years.

As the family gears up to celebrate its 50th year in business, they struggle knowing that Vince Mattera, Sr. is not around to celebrate with them. But they know he would be proud.

“He would have been so proud,” Angie Mattera says with tears in her eyes. “He would have loved celebrating the 50th, and we will all be thinking of him, as we always do.”

Actual celebration plans have not been decided, but the family knows they are approaching on a milestone that is becoming less and less common. They plan on making sure the community of San Pedro knows how much they appreciate the support, as they say they are “overwhelmed with the gratitude and loyalty throughout the years.” spt

Softball Tourney Continues Rossi Legacy

Ryan Rossi, pictured here in El Salvador, lost his battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma on Dec. 11, 2011. (photo by Taso Papadakis)

Leaving a footprint, a legacy, a lasting impression will at some point cross the mind of each person on this earth. For some though, it’s just a thought. And for others, sadly, it is a thought they won’t see brought to reality.

For Ryan Rossi, it was a dream, a dream that before his tragic death became reality. A dream, that six months after his death, is still living on, along with his legacy through the hard work and dedication of his family, friends and community.

Rossi, a devoted musician and semi professional soccer player, died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma on Dec. 11, 2011, but not before starting a legacy that is continuing on.

20k Watts, an Artist Eco Alliance, started by Rossi, his father Leo Rossi, and fellow musician JR Richards, was founded after a trip to El Salvador where the the site of the conditions people lived in struck a cord so deep that not helping wasn’t an option.

After their trip they described some of what they saw, saying that the hospital walls were covered in an oily film from kerosene lamps. That hundreds of children were suffering from respiratory problems that not only affects the quality of their life, but the length.

It wasn’t until they landed back in California, that they had a plan — they were going to eradicate the use of kerosene lamps in the villages of El Salvador.

The outlet to raise the money was close to their hearts — music.

Two months after inception, and going strong with their aim to replace the kerosene lamps with renewable energy lamps, tragedy struck. Rossi was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but the diagnosis didn’t halt the cause, or Rossi for that matter.

His motto, “Just Love It,” and his remarkable passion and spirit kept Rossi going. He worked through the good days and the bad, and battled the best he could and through it all remained fully committed to the cause.

Rossi made it clear that he didn’t want to be mourned, he wanted to be celebrated. This prompted his friends, family and community to hold a charity concert in his honor — another example of Rossi’s passion to give back.

But the community wasn’t done yet.

Rossi’s uncle, Mike Durbin, who has played in every charity softball tournament in the area, wanted to a host a tournament for his nephew. And that’s exactly what he did. He held a small charity tournament in January, that raised enough money to replace lamps, and relight up 10 villages in El Salvador.

“It was such a great success that I knew immediately that we would do it annually,” said Durbin. “But we didn’t want to wait until January, we wanted to have a big summer party for Ryan.”

Under the same name, the “Ryan Rossi ‘Just Love It’ Summer Bash Co-Ed Softball Tournament” will take place on July 14 and 15 at Stevenson Park in Carson.

It will be a 16-team, double elimination tournament, that will start at 8 a.m. on both days. There are still spots available for teams to enter.

In addition to the softball, there will also be a DJ, raffles, jump houses for the children and plenty of food, including authentic El Salvadorian cuisine from Tala’s Restaurant, which will donate a portion of their proceeds to 20K Watts.

“I can’t think of a better way to celebrate someone’s life than getting friends and family together and playing softball for a cause that is so great,” Durbin said. “We are so thankful for everyone in the community that has donated or gotten involved in any way, shape or form. This is really a great cause and we appreciate all the help.” spt

For more information about the tournament or the cause, to get involved, donate or sponsor a team, please contact Mike Durbin at (310) 218-8371 or e-mail him at DaddyDurb@hotmail.com.