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Mattson a human ‘gem’ in the Jewel

Many of La Jolla’s human “treasures” aren’t hidden away, but are in plain view.

If you don’t believe it, take an early morning stroll along Coast Boulevard and you’re likely to encounter one of the community’s real “jewels,” 89-year-old Phil Mattson riding his three-wheeled recombinant bike.

“I go dog walking in the morning and he brings treats for dogs,” said Ruth Rollins, a Casa de Manana resident who sees her friend regularly along his cycling route. “Naturally, he becomes acquainted not only with the dog but the dog’s owner.”

“My balance is really bad — I use a walker — but when I’m on this I can ride,” boasts Mattson. The native Philadelphian who lives on Fern Glen was out and about one recent morning on his usual 5:30 a.m. to 7 a.m. jaunt to the Cove and back on his bike, which has three sprockets and 21 gears.

“I love dogs,” said Mattson, who is recovering from a stroke he had six months ago.

He had stopped along the way to greet his favorite canine, Darla, a well-mannered 4-month-old yellow Lab owned by Gloria Green, a Monte Vista resident. Darla practically leaps into Mattson’s lap to devour the dog bone treat he’s dug out of his coat pocket.

“I hope I don’t lose my hand,” joked Mattson, adding, “This is the cutest dog I ever saw.”

Asked how many neighborhood dogs Mattson has befriended, he replied: “I don’t think about that.”

“There’s at least 15 to 20,” Green chimed in. “They see him coming. They all know him. They go right for the pocket. They know exactly where he carries them (treats).”

It’s easier for Mattson’s friends to see him coming as he’s got headlights on his three-wheeler that dogs really respond to.

“The owners go in one direction and the dogs go in the other when they see the light,” he said.

This day Mattson has a special remembrance on his jacket, a badge with a winking Santa Claus.

“I made that for my wife,” said the retired engineer of his late wife, Helen. “Between Christmas and New Year’s she always put it on.”

Rollins, who brought Mattson to the Light’s attention with her own version of his story, said there’s a lot about her friend Phil Mattson that isn’t common knowledge — like the fact that he’s a master wood carver.

She wrote that Mattson’s boyhood “home in Philadelphia was the only one his family ever owned and they lost that in the Great Depression. He recalls that they moved around a lot after that.”

He became a homeowner again in 1958 when he and his wife Helen came to San Diego, where he worked for General Atomic, she added. An engineer, he had been working at power plants for many years and spent his Army years working Oak Ridge, Tenn.

“He’s got an absolutely immaculate little workshop in his home with all of his tools and things stored in boxes he has created over the years,” she said, noting his specialty is carving wooden ships in bottles. His first ship carving was the HMS Alfred, a model of a historic 250-square-foot rigger used to blockade the mouth of the Delaware during the American Revolution.

Rollins said Mattson’s pride and joy is a Mississippi river boat inside a bottle that’s a glass rolling pin.

“How he did that I have no idea,” she said, adding Mattson’s also a caricature carver, having done likenesses of celebrities such as Patsy Kline and Willie Nelson.

Mattson’s work is to be on display in a lounge at Casa de Manana sometime after the first of the year.

Meanwhile, Mattson keeps riding, meeting and greeting, handing out doggie bones to all comers.

“Do you want one?” he asked with a twinkle.