Constantine “Costa” Mavromatis has made his living as a skilled woodworker. However, his hobbies of music, photography, stamp and coin collection add another dimension to his personality.
Born in Constantinople (Istanbul), Turkey, on August 23, 1945, Costa is the son of Georgos Emanuel Mavromatis and Anastasia Pavlioglu Constantinou. His name was derived from the maternal family surname.
Georgos was born in 1919 and was a furniture maker and polisher by trade in the Pera area of Istanbul. He spoke four languages: Turkish, Greek, Ladino and French. Costa describes his father as very easy going and, despite coffee-drinking and cigarette-smoking habits, lived until the age of 86 when he died in 1992 in Athens, Greece.
Anastasia was born in 1922 in Capadocia, then Asia Minor, and orphaned at the age of six when her mother died. Her siblings (Parthena, Sara and John) were refugees. John escaped from Turkey in 1923 and moved to Thessaloniki, Greece, where Costa was able to find him through the Red Cross in 1971. The sisters moved with their aunt to Australia and left Anastasia behind. She was placed in an orphanage and then taken in by a French embassy employee in Izmir, Turkey, to be a nanny for his children. Although she could not read or write, she could speak Turkish, Greek and French.
Georgos and Anastasia met in Istanbul, married and purchased a home on Prinkipo (now Buyukada – meaning big island) one of the Princess Islands in the Sea of Marmara. Costa recalls pleasant times in his youth when Greeks and Turks lived side by side. While Turkish was the language spoken in his school, his father paid extra for Greek school for his children. Costa has one younger sister, Athena, who now lives in Athens. Costa worked with his father, learning carpentry, making windows, doors and other pieces all by hand. When Turkey began to occupy the island of Cyprus, Costa contends that hard feelings between Greeks and Turks carried over to Istanbul. Orthodox churches were damaged and Christians were threatened. A population of 45,000 Greeks diminished over the years to the point where only about 6000 Greeks now live in Istanbul.
In 1964, when Costa was 18 years old, the family moved to Athens and two years later he became a Greek citizen. To this day he retains both Turkish and Greek citizenships but leaves them aside with preference to his United States citizenship. He had finished Zografio High School in Istanbul and found a job in the Athenian suburb of Kalithea as a journeyman carpenter. He worked there for the next nine years during the post-war construction boom in Greece and credits his “masters” for his craft. In Greece it was not a formal educational process but learning from the master craftsmen. During this time Costa was able to purchase a car, his red NSU Prinz, and a condominium in Athens. He was able to bring a certificate of his work accomplishments to the United States which helped him continue his woodworking career.
In his late 20s Costa’s mother urged him to find a bride. One day in 1972 he was invited to build some bookshelves for a friend, Niko. Costa was suspicious as Niko was a bricklayer and had little need for bookshelves. Arriving at the home he was told “ella mesa, echo mia anipsia apo tin Ameriki,” (come in, I have a niece from America) and it was Areti “Rita” Pantazos who was visiting from Seattle, Washington. Costa offered to show Rita around the area, including a drive to see the ruins at Cape Sounion in his little red car, and the match was made. Initially, there was concern as Rita was just 19 years old. However Costa, like many Greeks at the time, wanted to be part of the life in America. So when Rita returned to Seattle she began arranging Costa’s emigration to the United States. He flew through England to Seattle arriving on October 31, 1972, with only his passport and $200. Initially he stayed with the Pantazos family while waiting for proper authorization to remain and marry Rita within the required 30 days. He was surprised by the modest wood frame homes in the Rainier Valley neighborhood, expecting that all Americans were wealthy and should live in fancier villas.
Costa and Rita were married in Seattle’s St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church but not without complications. Proof that Costa was a baptized Christian and not married was required. Costa’s father provided some authentication but further proof from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul was eventually obtained and the marriage took place on January 7, 1973. A few days later, Costa was employed at Kellogg’s, the largest family-owned cabinet making business in Seattle at the time. Rita and Costa were then able to purchase a small home in the Skyway area south of Seattle. In 1973 their first child Anastasia “Stacy” (after her paternal grandmother) was born. A second child, Dionysius “Danny” (after his maternal grandfather) followed in 1976. Costa and Rita have six grandchildren.
Costa’s work at Kellogg’s included fine cabinet work for the offices and homes of Seattle bankers. He continued with Kellogg’s until the company closed and Costa opened his own business in 1981. With tools and equipment purchased from Kellogg’s and referrals from their office manager, Costa began with a small shop in the basement of his home. As he became established in the Greek community his work increased. He has built shelves, library and kitchen fixtures for St. Demetrios Church where he served for 12 years on the parish council and for All Saints Camp on Raft Island asking only for materials and his expenses. As his business grew, Costa improved his skills by study through Chicago Technical College, learning to read blueprints and the details of wiring, plumbing and related work for home construction.
In 1990 Costa visited Oldrich Berka, his former Czechoslovakian colleague at Kellogg’s, who owned an old house and a large farm property in Kirkland, across Lake Washington from Seattle. The Mavromatis family visited Kirkland regularly, picnicking on the property. Costa and Rita purchased a parcel of land from Oldrich, found an architect and Costa built the family home in which they now reside. He fondly recalls the housewarming with about 25 children and their families in attendance. His business has been located in a large metal structure adjacent to his home and contains every piece of woodworking equipment one might imagine.
Costa is very proud of his skills, his independence, his honesty and his ability to help others. During his early days in Seattle, he saw homeless people begging on the streets and boarded up homes on deactivated Fort Lawton (now Discovery Park) and wondered why those people could not be put to work, improving the homes and living in them. He is also very proud of being able to optimistically take on a new project even when others may have their doubts as to his abilities. He values the closeness of family and neighbors and having become successful in his business.
From the time he was a little boy, he always enjoyed music. His father would bring him records which he played on a high-quality turntable. In Greece he had a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Costa has a collection of over 2000 records and cassettes plus eight-track players, reel-to-reel recorders, speakers and everything needed to provide a professional sound for large events. With his son Danny, Costa has provided music for Greek festivals, weddings and holiday celebrations. As Danny began his own profession and newer equipment has become available, Costa now uses the equipment only for his own pleasure. He also began his photography hobby in Greece when he was 14, developing black and white photos. He has an extensive collection of pre-digital cameras and developing equipment with which he has created large posters with excellent resolution. Finally, he has collected stamps and coins from all over the world since he was 12 years old.
Costa remembers his mother saying, “homa na piasis kai malama na ginete” hold onto the soil and you have gold. His numerous hobbies and possessions have given him his “gold” over the years. Costa never lacks for activity and finds peace in his own home while working with his wood, his music, his photography, his stamps, his coins and a perfectly restored 1974 blue MGB convertible. By keeping active he has little time to complain or become nervous about any problems. He knows that if one is trained and prepared before taking on a project he will be successful. Despite some naysayers along the way, he has proven this theory to be true.
Now retired, Costa uses his skills occasionally and is pleased to help others. He has been able to take his children to Greece and Turkey to see his home, his schools and to understand the life he experienced as a young man. He is very proud of his heritage and calls himself a 100% Byzantine Greek Christian from Constantinople.By John and Joann Nicon, (February 27, 2015)
1 Costa with a photo of his shop, 2014
2 Georgos’ identification, circa 1940
3 Georgos Mavromatis, 1960s
4 Anastasia Mavromatis, circa 1948
5 Prinkipo, 1950s
6 Costa, Anastasia, Athena, 1947
7 Costa, 1950s
8 School friends in Istanbul (Costa center in sweater), late 1950s
9 Costa, Anastasia, Georgos, Athena, mid 1950s
10 Athena and Costa, early 1950s
11 Costa and Athena, 1950s
12 Athena and Costa, 1960s
13 Georgos and Anastasia, 1960s
14 Costa and his NSU Prinz, 1960s
15 Costa playing the accordion, 1960s
16 Costa, 1960s
17 Costa and Rita in Greece, 1972
18 Rita and Costa wedding, 1973
19 Costa with Danny and Stacy, 1977
20 Costa, Rita, Stacy and Danny, 1994
21 Georgia Armatas, Stacy, Danny, Rita, Costa in Istanbul, 2000
22 Son-in-law Fr. Evan Armatas, Stacy, daughter-in-law Jessica, Danny, circa 2008
23 With grandchildren (l-r) Elise, Eleni, Vivian, Rita, Alexia, Spyridon, Costa, Maria, 2013
24 Costa with masters Niko and Yianni Karithopoulos in Greece, 1960s
25 Costa’s construction certificate, 1986
26 Costa’s business card, 2014
27 Costa in his shop, 2014
28 Costa with his hobbies, 2014
29 Costa at Buyukda, formerly Prinkipo, 2014
30 Costa and Rita, 2014
Photos 1, 27, 28 and 30 by John Nicon; all others from Mavromatis family collection SOURCES
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, April 2014