Wednesday, April 14, 2010

East Meets West

I was a true Westerner, a Californian for more than 20 years. I enjoyed the most beautiful sunsets and thought back to the times of the wagon trails making it to the then "final frontier." But, I always had the fleeting thought that New York was the place to be. While the "trail" ended in California, I was fascinated about where it began ... in New York, the home of Lady Liberty, the house of fashion, the creative nucleus on Madison Avenue, the seat of commerce - Wall Street.

When I finally got to visit New York on business while working for Bank of America in the early 1990s, my dream was realized. I remember the thrill of landing at JFK International Airport on the United Airlines flight. As if staying at the Millennium Hilton overlooking the twin towers of the World Trade Center, visiting Wall Street and the NYSE, and the Grand Central Station weren't enough, I managed to pack in a quick tour of Central Park, The Guggenheim, Museum of Modern Art, and even pass by where John Lennon was shot and where JFK Jr and Jackie Kennedy Onassis lived.

My appetite for NY was somewhat sated and I resumed my California life. In the ensuing years, as Jackie O passed away, JFK Jr met his untimely death, and I watched with horror as the twin towers fall, I savored my fleeting brush with history. I felt connected somehow in a strange, almost spiritual way to the people who were killed or injured.

Fast forward to 2010 as I relocate with my family to Brooklyn. I get to experience a different side of New York--sans glamor, financial district, overpowering buildings, luxury, and the expanse of Central Park, but with the hustle and bustle of everyday life. In many ways, the Bushwick area reminds me of downtown Los Angeles. With a large Hispanic population, a smattering of other ethnicities, rows and rows of shops, fresh fruit.

As I settled in, I wanted to immerse myself in my new surroundings, so I could assimilate and become a Brooklyner. I learned that Brooklyn was originally named Breuckelen, after Breukelen in the province of Utrecht in the Netherlands, because New York was then called New Amsterdam because of its Dutch settlements. Other villages which were later incorporated into Brooklyn were Boswijk (Bushwick), Nieuw Utrecht (New Utrecht), and Nieuw Amersfoort (Flatlands). My birth country of Sri Lanka was once occupied by the Dutch several centuries ago, so I see the similarity in a lot of the architecture. (The Dutch lost it to Britain in 1664. The rest is ... history.)

Aside from its most famous landmark, the Brooklyn Bridge, I found out that Brooklyn is famous for nine other National Historic Landmarks, namely:
  • the Brooklyn Heights Historic District,
  • the Brooklyn Historical Society building,
  • Plymouth Church of the Pilgrams,
  • Quarters A at the Brooklyn Navy Yard,
  • Jackie Robinson House,
  • St. Ann Holy Trinity Church,
  • Green-Wood Cemetery,
  • the Wyckoff-Bennett Homestead, and
  • the Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House
In the mid-19th century, Brooklyn had so many houses of worship, it picked up the nickname "the City of Churches." And, because it served as the "sleeping quarters" for people who worked in Manhattan, it was also sometimes called the City of Houses.

It turns out that Brooklyn is home to some famous brand origins as well. Here are a few of my favorites:
  • Corning Glass started in Brooklyn in 1851 as the Brooklyn Flint Glass Works. The name was changed to Corning Glass when the company moved to Corning, New York in 1868.
  • Bank Charge Cards were first introduced in 1946 by banker John Biggins at the Flatbush National Bank as the Charg-It Card.
  • Both the single-packet serving of sugar and Sweet N'Low brand artificial sweetener were invented by Benjamin Eisenstadt, who ran a diner across the street from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Eisenstadt's company, the Cumberland Packing Company, still headquartered in Ft Greene today, was also the first to package single-serving sizes of condiments such as soy sauce, ketchup and mustard
  • Twizzlers candy were developed by the National Licorice Company in Brooklyn in 1845.
  • Also founded in 1845 in Brooklyn was drug company Pfizer Pharmaceuticals.
  • Another drug company from Brooklyn is ER Squibb Pharmaceuticals, founded in 1858. Squibb merged with Bristol-Myers in 1989 to form Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, the world's second-largest pharmaceutical company.
Wow, with that much rich heritage, who wants to leave Brooklyn? Fuhgeddaboudit! (click link to hear Donnie Brasco explain what it means.)

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