When growing up, my favorite book was Rebecca, and I always loved the opening line: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” I have often borrowed a portion of this sentence to describe my first visit to the offices of Fiber Optic Center, Inc. That experience is almost as suspenseful as Daphne Du Maurier’s timeless classic.
The time (though I am not sure of the exact date) was prior to 2004. I had worked for Lightwave as their media consultant for the fiber optic industry for over twenty years. My job was identifying and matching fiber optic companies’ business objectives with Lightwave’s audience behaviors and the latest marketing best practices. After working together for several years, Fiber Optic Center invited me to visit their office. Now these were the days before Bluetooth and most GPS options, so I when I hit the road there was planning involved. Most cars had map books and, for specific trips, I printed out paper MapQuest directions. Part of my planning always included asking the basic questions: Are there any special instructions for parking? Which door should I enter when I arrive? There were no special instructions. And so my journey began.
My story goes something like this:
Last night I dreamt I went to P. Kaller & Son again …. That day was full of excitement for my first visit at the FOC office in historic New Bedford, Massachusetts. It was a cool, sunny fall day with my favorite combination of sweaters, sunglasses and crunchy leaves underfoot. I found the basic location easily, although MapQuest had me circle a few times due to one-way streets it was unaware of. Coming from Boston, I was used to those challenges. Because of my unnatural fear of being late for anything, I always plan for at least an extra half hour, so I was still ahead of my appointment time.
Parking was not as intuitive, since I could not tell which building was for Fiber Optic Center. I could not find an obvious parking lot for a medium-size office, and the streets were clearly marked with permit-required parking tow zones. Two blocks away I found a public parking garage and chose that option to ensure I would not have any issues. The walk back over to Centre Street was gorgeous with 1800s architecture, cobblestone streets and the smells and sounds of the ocean getting stronger as I approached.
I knew some of the background of the area from Neal Weiss, the founder and then President of Fiber Optic Center.
What I did know about Centre Street was that it was one of the oldest streets in New Bedford’s history, (obvious by the British spelling of Centre as opposed to the American spelling of Center), and that it was in the “Whaling City.” Many vessels had used the end of Centre Street to dock and offload cargo. This offered access to a facility where whale blubber was offloaded after being boiled down during the long voyage.
What I did not know was where building #23 was or how to enter it. I found the buildings numbered before and after 23, but what was between was a tall brick, commercial, early-nineteenth century building with a sign that read “P. Kaller & Son Wholesale BEEF and Provisions.” There was no visible door, just a loading dock with a brick wall behind and a few cars parked in front of it. I walked up and down more than once and then decided to chance walking behind the few cars to look around the loading dock. There was a door: a large, slightly scary-looking door with no company markings on it.
My unnatural fear of being late overrode what would have been a natural fear of climbing the stairs to that ominous door. I did it. Tucked in a corner was a small button for a doorbell, so I held my breath and rang the bell.
“Hello?” from a deep voice over the speaker.
“Hi, is this Fiber Optic Center?” I asked. Now I cannot prove that anyone laughed at me after my question, but I felt it was likely.
“Yes it is. How can we help you?”
I wanted to shout, “Put up a sign, people. Seriously. That is how you could help me. How about some information when asked if there are any special instructions for arriving and finding the place?” But instead I went with, “This is Kathleen for my appointment with Neal.”
In spite of that challenging initiation, over ten years later when I was changing direction in my career, I chose to join the FOC team over others in the industry. Since that solid decision, I have learned more of the history of New Bedford and specifically 23 Centre Street. My appreciation for all of these things, including that infamous “beef” sign, has grown.
As previously mentioned, in its beginnings, the name “Centre” represented the excellent location in the middle of the whaling activity of the city. When that industry began to decline in the later 1800s, Centre Street suffered, and many of its buildings fell into disrepair. It was almost one hundred years before the renovation project initiated by the Waterfront Historic Area League (WHALE) began restoring buildings and revitalizing the area. The mission of WHALE is to foster historic preservation and continued use of the city’s architectural heritage to enhance community and economic vitality in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Centre Street, with a history of bringing revenue to the city through multiple industries, continues that tradition today.
Fiber Optic Center was founded in 1991 in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in the place known in the 19th Century as “the city that lit the world.” Because this active seaport was home to the worldwide whaling industry, its products were used to light the lamps and later lighthouses throughout the U.S. and elsewhere. Whaleships were at sea for 3 or more years at a time in every direction, including both poles and everywhere in between. On returning back to the home port, goods gathered overseas were shared with others, as were stories of people, customs and cultures. Immigrants came from far places to man the ships, and many stayed and settled when their sailing days ended.
FOC continues the tradition of lighting the world – the products we sell are based on fiber optics or other light-centric technologies (“photonics”), such as lasers and optical coatings. We also see the entire planet as our market and our source of supplies, and therefore select the best and highest quality to offer to those who depend on us to get their job done.
The past and future blend seamlessly beyond the installed fiber cable throughout 23 Centre Street. With exposed beams, brick walls, modern lighting and the latest computer systems, the five-story building is a blend of old and new. Within those walls, FOC hustles daily to help their customers make the best cable assemblies in the world while looking out over New Bedford harbor and the #1 fishing fleet in the U.S. (measured by the dollar value of the catch).
Now you, too, can find this amazing location with our newly renovated sign.
Move forward almost fifteen years from that first visit for me. The catalyst for this article is the addition of the words FIBER OPTIC CENTER to the recently renovated P. Kaller & Son Wholesale BEEF and Provisions sign. The sign still hangs outside of the building that has served as a whale oil storehouse, an ice-making company, a provisioning warehouse, an office for ship captains, the P. Kaller & Son meat-packing business and now Fiber Optic Center.
Today, the sign proudly displays Fiber Optic Center as the current business and industry investing in the Whaling City. I am personally proud that I am now home here, too.
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