VIDEO: Brooklyn’s own ‘Geppetto’ creates holiday magic
Camouflaged within the industrial streets of East Flatbush stands a workshop where Lou Nasti, engineer of the holidays, creates Christmas fairy tales. A synthetic elephant and two old skeletons guard the main entrance.
The interior of the 15,000-square-foot factory looks like any other workshop: carpentry and machinery areas are displayed along with rooms for painting, costume and setup. But, down a blue-lit entranceway vitalized by harp melodies and behind a door that reads “Welcome to my world,” there lies a very special kind of workshop.
Christmas-themed little creatures come to life around the room. Dozens of pointy-eared elves dance and bounce around and a family of teddy bears does woodwork at a carpenter shop. Dressed-up figurines dance at a music saloon.
Nasti, a small man with a big walrus mustache, runs the show here. Brooklyn-born and grey-haired, he is known as “Geppetto” for his many similarities to the woodcarving fictional character in “The Adventures of Pinacchio.” He has been creating eye-popping Christmas displays for more than 50 years.
“I can be called worse with a name like Nasti,” he joked. “I guess I’m the real Geppetto of Brooklyn.”
Lou Nasti Mechanical Display started as a small shop on Flatbush Avenue in 1965, not long after the then-17-year-old Nasti was featured in The New York Times for building a 6-foot-tall robot.
“I love mechanical mechanisms. I could not leave the house without coming back with a piece of junk — a television, wheels, gear, something — so I had to understand how things work,” he said. “I wanted to build a robot as a hobby, and it turned out to be the stepping stone in my life.”
About 16 years after he started his small enterprise, it became a promising company with a 90,000-square-foot factory and 63 employees who created Christmas windows for New York flagship stores like Gimbels, Lord & Taylor, Macy’s, Saks, Best & Co. and B. Altman, many of which went bankrupt long ago.
But Nasti was not happy.
“I realized that what I was selling wasn’t the quality that I wanted,” he said.
Trusting the reputation he had built during almost a decade of work, Nasti decided to downsize.
With almost a quarter of the space and 12 employees, he devoted his renovated business to creating custom displays, not only for department stores but also for casinos, theatres, amusement parks and houses around the globe.
At Nasti’s workshop, Christmas runs year-round.
The day after Thanksgiving, he and five employees unpacked a truck with the decorations for Dyker Heights’ famous three-story Polizzotto house at 1145 84th St., which Nasti has been decking out in holiday garb for more than three decades.
“A friend of mine called Frank Leone said to me, ‘I want you to decorate my lawyer’s house,’” Nasti recalled, explaining that it was Leone’s gift to Alfred Polizzotto, who was in Florida at the time.
“I decorated the house [and] it looked like Rockefeller Center,” Nasti said cheerily.
Hanging from the second floor of the white stucco house, Nasti led the team to hoist the 15-foot-tall wooden mechanical soldiers that every year rise gracefully on either side of the front door. In the early morning the group mounted two carousels and a troop of small soldiers.
By the end of the day, a 350-pound Santa, two white epic mechanical horses, six large pedestals and a cast of elves completed the display, a tradition that Florence Polizzotto continues in honor of Alfred Polizzotto, her husband, who passed away 17 years ago.
“Santa gets a new coat every year, and he gets a new beard. Sometimes the pigeons sit on top of his head and mess ‘em up a little, so we have to make sure he doesn’t go out looking like an old dirty Santa,” Nasti said chuckling.
After decades in the Christmas business, Nasti considers the holiday’s original meaning to have changed.
“There is less religion in it,” he said. “It’s very difficult to celebrate the tradition of Christmas — the birth of Christ — because a lot of people who celebrate Christmas don’t believe in Christ.”
For Nasti, details like replacing the word “Christmas” with “holidays” on written contracts or having to remove star toppers from Christmas trees reflect companies’ inclinations to avoid the religious tone of the season.
“The feeling of Christmas has changed,” he said. “But if you really look at it, you can’t see the difference, it’s still Christmas.”