Lawrence Virgilio Playground
This park, located between 39th Road and 39th Drive and running from 52nd to 54th Streets in Queens, is named for Louis Windmuller (1835-1913), a civic leader and businessman who summered on this Woodside hill until his death in 1913.
Born in Westphalia, Germany in 1835, Louis Windmuller emigrated to the United States at the age of 18. He began working in the banking industry and soon became successful, chartering several banks that served New York’s growing German immigrant population. Windmuller also helped found the German-American Insurance Company in response to the devastating fire that destroyed Chicago in 1871. Later in life Windmuller devoted his energies to civic service, becoming active with the Reform Club, the New-York Historical Society, the Legal Aid Society, the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Windmuller wrote frequently for publications about a variety of topics, including economic policy and civic issues.
Windmuller was a staunch advocate of parks and he served on the Heine Monument Society, which helped secure a spot for the fountain in what is now known as Joyce Kilmer Park in the Bronx. A fervent walker, Windmuller also established the "Pedestrian Club" which even counted Mayor William Jay Gaynor as a member. In the summer, Windmuller often walked an hour from his Woodside home to his Title Guaranty and Trust office downtown (via a ferry at Hunter’s Point); he once remarked that "a good rule to make your tramp a really enjoyable pastime is to be careful and not walk too fast."
In 1912 Windmuller’s daughter Anna burned to death in a house fire and it was said that he never recovered from the shock. Suffering from dementia and unresponsive, by September 1913 Windmuller was declared incompetent to manage his own affairs. Windmuller died less than a week later. An editorial in the New York Times called him "an exceedingly simple and likable man, whose kindly disposition and unfailing sympathy secured to him a host of sincere friends."
The land comprising Windmuller Park was acquired from the Windmuller family in 1936 and the park was officially opened to the public in 1937. Other portions of the Windmuller property were sold in the 1940s to build one of the many "garden apartment" developments that took root in this part of Queens. Neighboring Doughboy Park was fully improved and opened in 1957, and in 1959 the section of 54th Street that ran between the two sites was closed to traffic and converted to parkland, joining the two parcels.
When Parks Commissioner Richard Clurman urged individual communities to unite with the city to keep their neighborhood parks clean and safe, several Woodside residents heeded the call to turn around Windmuller Park. The Windmuller Park Neighborhood Association was formed in the spring of 1973 and in response to the community’s enthusiastic support, Parks returned the favor that summer by making significant repairs at the site. After the park survived no further break-ins or vandalism, Windmuller Park was hailed as a model for Parks’ fledgling partnership program. The park was so successful that it became one of the few in the city where a flag actually flew on the flagpole installed at the site -- flag theft being a widespread problem at that time.
In 2002 the park’s playground was named for Lawrence Virgilio (1962-2001), a New York City Firefighter who died in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Virgilio, a firefighter with the Greenwich Village-based Squad 18, used the playground as a youth growing up in this neighborhood. Virgilio served 12 years with the Fire Department, receiving two unit citations for bravery. In 2007 a $2.1 million project added an open-air stage, a renovated ADA-accessible comfort station, mini-pool, exercise track, pathways, fencing, basketball courts, and new exercise equipment. City Council Member Eric Gioia funded $1.6 million for the project, with an additional $485,000 from State Assembly Member Margaret Markey.