Real estate visionary and St. John’s benefactor, Joseph M. Mattone passes away at 92, leaves legacy of transformation and philanthropy

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Joseph M. Mattone held his family close to him in all his ventures, from law to major real estate development.
Photo via Mattone Investors

Joseph M. Mattone, a towering figure in one of the world’s most formidable retail markets, died peacefully surrounded by his family at his home on Thursday, March 21, at the age of 92.

A distinguished lawyer and real estate mogul, Mattone’s ascent through the ranks of real estate development not only marked his own success but also uplifted his entire family, setting a remarkable example of perseverance and achievement.

The youngest of nine children born on September 15, 1931, during the depths of the Great Depression, Mattone’s life story began in Greenpoint. His family, with roots stretching back to Italy in 1875, epitomized the immigrant dream.

Mattone’s educational journey was marked by ambition and resilience. Initially attending P.S 17 in Williamsburg, he was later accepted into the renowned Stuyvesant High School. However, he completed his high school education at St. John’s Preparatory School, a private Catholic institution in Astoria, laying the groundwork for his enduring connection with St. John’s.

His academic prowess continued to shine as he was admitted to St. John’s College on the Hillcrest campus, where he earned both his bachelor’s and law degrees in an impressive span of five years, graduating cum laude and ranking fifth in his law school class. Notably, despite being the youngest, Mattone was the first in his family to achieve a college education at the time, a testament to his dedication and the foundational values instilled by his family.

Mattone was not the last of the family to walk on the Hillcrest campus. Four of his seven children went on to receive law degrees from St. John’s, as well as his daughter in law. And three of his 27 grandchildren, including his grandson in law also joined the ranks. Two of his grandchildren are currently enrolled in the program, according to the university. 

Mattone’s journey from a humble law practice in Greenpoint to becoming a titan of the real estate industry is a testament to his visionary leadership and entrepreneurial spirit. He established his first law office in the very home his grandfather built, where he offered legal advice to local businesses. By 1955, inspired by his brother Carl, Joseph ventured into the real estate realm, marking the beginning of an illustrious career.

In the late 1950s, he founded Mattone Investors, a company that would go on to shape New York Metropolitan area’s landscape with significant private and public development projects. Today, Mattone Investors boasts a portfolio of over four million square feet of commercial, residential, and industrial real estate, reflecting the breadth of Joseph’s impact.

His collaborations extended to partnerships with household names like McDonald’s, Burger King, Exxon, and Mobil, further diversifying his contributions to the development of commercial properties. One of the crowning achievements of Mattone Investors was the transformation of a parking lot into the Jamaica Center Mall in 2002. This 411,000-square-foot mixed-use space, featuring national retailers and a 15-screen movie theater, became a vital component of Downtown Jamaica’s revitalization and houses the Queens Educational Opportunity Center, a SUNY program.

Until his passing, Joseph M. Mattone served as the Chairperson of Mattone Investors, with his son, Michael X. Mattone, now leading the company as Chief Executive Officer.

Joseph’s legacy extends beyond the real estate industry. At St. John’s University, the Mattone Family Atrium, part of the St. John’s Law School, stands as a lasting tribute to his generosity, housing the Mattone Family Institute for Real Estate Law. This institute, founded through his significant donation, offers aspiring real estate lawyers unparalleled career development opportunities and a rich curriculum.

In recognition of his contributions, St. John’s University honored him with an honorary doctorate of law in 1994, along with the President’s Medal and the Medal of Honor in previous years. A testament to his lifelong dedication to the university, Joseph was the inaugural member of the Founder’s Society, signifying donors who have contributed $1 million or more, and served on the Board of Governors and the Board of Trustees.

“Thanks to his unwavering generosity, Joe’s legacy lives on at the Law School, in our Queens community, and in the wider legal and business worlds. He will be missed. May he rest in peace,” said SJU in a press release.

Joseph M. Mattone’s legacy is a story of dedication, innovation, and philanthropy, leaving an indelible mark on the real estate industry and the communities he served.

Mattone is survived by his seven children and 27 grandchildren from his first wife, Irene Ficarra, who he married in 1956. After Ficarra’s death from cancer, he remarried in 1991. Mattone and his wife Mary Ann Pessolano resided in Douglaston up until his death.

To allow those who knew Mattone to pay their respects, a visitation will be held on Monday, March 25 from 2:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Tuesday, March 26 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Immaculate Conception Center in Douglaston.

The funeral mass will follow on Wednesday at 10 a.m. at St. Thomas More Church inside St. John’s University. The entombment will follow at Mt. St. Mary’s Cemetery in Fresh Meadows.

In lieu of flowers, donations in memory of Joseph M. Mattone can be made to St. John’s University Law School at https://www.stjohns.edu/law/give.