Friend honors firefighter who died at trade center

Steve Gallira and Chuck Margiotta were business partners, and friends. The pair played on the football team together at Monsignor Farrell High School in Staten Island and had remained close since. Their families even shared a vacation house in the Adirondacks. Gallira, of Wayne, was a general contractor doing high-end apartment remodeling on Manhattan's Upper East Side. Margiotta returned to Staten Island after attending Brown University, and he became a firefighter, serving 14 years in Harlem and four more for Ladder 85 in his home borough.

One night last year, the two took a detour on the way up to the mountains. Gallira had a meeting with a guy in downtown Paterson, where he was hoping to renovate an old building into loft-style apartments. Margiotta headed to a dimly lit bar across the street to wait for his friend.
Gallira's deal didn't work out, but by the end of the evening the friends were in negotiations to buy the Palace Lounge on Prospect Street.

It turns out the small bar in the turn-of-the-century building opened to a cavernous banquet room in the back. The friends were inspired. The were convinced they could make a go of it and sure Paterson needed another eatery, particularly for the lunchtime courthouse crowd. And so the Corcovado restaurant was born, named for the famed summit in Rio de Janeiro with the statue of Christ at its peak. The closing was scheduled for Sept. 23.

On the morning of Sept. 11 Margiotta was on his way home from a shift he'd pulled for another firefighter in Brooklyn when he called his friend on a cellphone. "Turn on your TV,'' Margiotta told Gallira. "It looks bad.'' Margiotta stopped in at a firehouse in Manhattan then headed to the World Trade Center, where he perished. He was 44 when he died and left a wife and
two children.

"That's my guy,'' Gallira said, motioning to the photo wall at the back of the restaurant's bar. There's a shot of Margiotta and his wife, Norma, and their two children, there's Margiotta in his uniform and in the mountains. In the banquet room there are more photos: Margiotta posing with the softball and soccer teams he coached at St. Rita's Church in Staten Island. One team includes his own and Gallira's two daughters.

Elsewhere in the restaurant are other remembrances, including Margiotta's Fire Department shield - No. 40 - and a deer head over the bar. Margiotta was an avid hunter, gardener, and much more. "He did things to the hilt,'' Gallira said. It was hard to imagine when Margiotta slept. In addition to his work on the Fire Department and his coaching, he was a substitute teacher, private investigator, and a member of the Screen Actors Guild - he'd had bit parts on television and in the movies, including "Frequency" and "Hannibal." "He was the guy who usually got shot,'' Gallira told The New York Times for his friend's obituary.

Margiotta was 6 feet, 1 inch and 240 pounds, and "had a personality twice as large,'' Gallira said. He said his friend never hesitated to speak his mind and could sometimes rub people the wrong way. But, "if anybody was ever in a situation, you would want him watching your back,'' he said. "You felt safe around him.''

Gallira hasn't worked at his construction business since Sept. 11; he's helping Norma Margiotta with some remodeling and getting the restaurant in shape. "Now I'm doing it by myself, and it's a big burden,'' Gallira said, his buoyant nature giving in to weariness. "But I'm gonna push it. I want to get the place open.'' He hopes to open it this summer. And so he'll continue renovations to realize the vision he shared with his friend. As he spoke, his enthusiasm crept back in. "This town is primed,'' he said of his hopes that the investment was sound.

Gallira has been fascinated with Paterson since his freshman year in college, when he was enthralled by William Carlos Williams' epic poem about the city. On this day he's planning a party - to celebrate his friend's life. "It's not gonna be a solemn thing, there's been so much of that,'' he told a New York firefighter who called about the shindig, a beer bash planned for
that night. "This is where the man would be if he was with us,'' he said of his friend.

 Patricia Alex - Staff Writer / The Record