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Unexpected delights on walking tours of New York City

By Maria LenhartSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / March 16, 1982



New York

It was not an ideal day for a walking tour of Greenwich Village. Drizzling and cold, it was the sort of December afternoon more suited to exploring a good book while huddled in front of a roaring fire.

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But promptly at 3 p.m. Howard Goldberg of Adventures on a Shoestring and a small band of participants, clutching umbrellas and tugging at woolen hats, met at the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and Eighth Street for a tour. Sponsoring an average of five low-cost, often unusual events in New York City each week, neither Mr. Goldberg nor his offbeat touring enterprise stops because of the weather.

''Because of the rain, there's no charge for the tour,'' said Goldberg as he began to hand out discount coupons for Broadway shows to those of us who wanted them. Elegantly attired in a gray pin-stripe suit, he had already hosted two other Shoestring events earlier in the day--a lavish brunch at the United Nations Plaza Hotel and then attendance at the George Abbott-George S. Kaufman play ''Three Men on a Horse.''

Although a walking tour of Greenwich Village is hardly an unusual New York event, we soon learned that one conducted by Mr. Goldberg is. After passing by One Fifth Avenue, the address where Jennie Jerome, the mother of Winston Churchill, attended finishing school, we headed down the charming block of small town houses called Washington Mews.

''This is one of seven privately owned streets in New York, streets that are a world within a world,'' said Goldberg, who then attempted to do what he does on most walking tours--engage passers-by in conversation about their neighborhood.

''Excuse me, are you from the mews?'' he asked a group of young men heading our way. As it turned out, not only were they not from the mews, but they were lost. After they were given directions, we headed to Washington Square. Here we observed a row of brick town houses facing the square, elegant structures that were being extensively renovated within. Eleanor Roosevelt, Goldberg told us, had once been the occupant of No. 29.

As he does on many of his neighborhood walking tours, Goldberg had arranged for the group to chat with a longtime resident and community leader. In this case it was with the Rev. Charles Zanoni, pastor of Our Lady of Pompei Church on Carmine and Bleecker Streets.

Our group happily left the bleak outdoors for the sanctuary of the beautiful Italian Renaissance-style church, built in 1926. After drawing our attention to such details as the Romanesque ceiling and exquisite gold-leafed panels behind the altar, Fr. Zanoni explained that the church was named after the area in Italy from where many of the original parishioners had emigrated.

What followed was an informative half-hour discussion in which we learned a good deal about the strong Italian community that still exists in the village despite decades of rising rents and a constantly changing ethnic and social milieu. By the time the conversation was over, we also knew where to buy good cannoli, what restaurant served especially good northern Italian dishes, and what famous people lived nearby. As we left the church and went our separate ways, it was evident that despite the rain and cold the tour proved an unexpected delight.