Woodside street rename honors boro firefighter

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By Tien-Shun Lee

A New York City firefighter who had a passion for both boxing and ballet was honored Saturday when a section of 52nd Street between Skillman and 43rd avenues in Woodside was named for him, nearly two years after his death in the World Trade Center.

Larry Virgilio, who was born and raised in Woodside, awoke early on Sept. 11, 2001 to vote in the city’s Democratic primary election. He then rode his bike across the 59th Street bridge to his firehouse in Lower Manhattan, as he did almost every day.

Virgilio’s fire squad, Squad 18, was one of the first to respond to the Sept. 11 attacks. Virgilio, a 39-year-old who had been in the Fire Department for 12 years, ran up the World Trade Center’s North Tower to try to rescue people. His body was found on Sept. 15, 2001.

“I don’t want to look at it because it breaks my heart,” said Joe Licalzo, standing in front of the new street sign at the corner of Skillman Avenue and 52nd Street, where he, Virgilio and a group of neighborhood friends used to congregate for hours on warm days.

Virgilio was Licalzo’s best man at his wedding and the godfather of his young son Joey. The two grew up a few buildings away from each other and continued to see one another frequently until Sept. 11.

“Larry was very extraordin­ary,” said Licalzo, who works as an NYPD police officer. “He liked boxing and he liked ballet. He covered the whole gamut of life. Me and him would go boxing and rock climbing together.”

Before he became a firefighter in 1989, Virgilio spent a year working on oil rigs in California, Licalzo said. He also practiced ballet and moved furniture at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan.

“He was a very physical kind of guy,” Licalzo said.

Virgilio once performed in a modern dance show at Queens College, Licalzo recalled. He also served as an extra in “Once Upon a Time in America,” a movie starring his favorite actor, Robert DeNiro.

In their spare time, Licalzo and Virgilio would drive to a market by the Verrazano Bridge where they would buy boxes of grapes, which Licalzo used to make wine in his basement.

Virgilio enjoyed trying new and different things, from Croatian food to exotic wines to scuba diving to opera, Licalzo said.

“I wanted to get him to go sky diving — that was my thing,” Licalzo said. “But we never got a chance.”

Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Astoria), whom Virgilio voted for at 6 a.m. on the day of his death, offered his condolences and prayers to Virgilio’s family and said renaming a street after Virgilio was the least the city could do to honor the firefighter.

“I was running for Council and I knocked on Larry’s door. He gave me a glass of iced tea and he said, ‘What are you doing here? You don’t have to worry about me — you’ve got my vote,’” Gioia recalled.

Virgilio’s mother, Lucy Virgilio, 76, and older brother, Thomas Virgilio, 46, said Virgilio would have been honored to have a street in his neighborhood named after him.

“He hung out with a ton of friends on this street corner, morning, noon and night, playing tag, touch football,” Thomas Virgilio said. “I’m certainly proud that my brother will live on forever on 52nd Street.”

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at, or call 718-229-0300, ext. 155.

Posted 7:23 pm, October 10, 2011
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