December 15, 2018: The Center of the World
An hour east of El Centro and 3 hours from San Diego is the town of Felicity, California. The town is also located just 15 minutes from Yuma, Arizona along interstate 8.
Felicity is not a normal town.
The town’s founder, Jacques-Andre Istel, pioneered parachuting in the United States in the early 1950’s after learning the skill in the US Army during the Korean War. He has numerous firsts and world records. He trained on land in a remote part of the California desert near Yuma. He ended up purchasing the land after the war. Not only did he have a home here, but he also started the first civilian parachuting school in America.
In the early 1980’s, Jacques had a crazy idea to make his land world famous. He went to the Imperial County Board of Supervisors and asked them to proclaim his home the Center of the World. Jacques argued his point using clever logic (how could it be disproven?) and the promise of tourism to the area. To further bolster the claim, he wrote a children’s book entitled Coe, the Good Dragon at the Center of the World. In the book, the dragon visits the Center of the World on his land.
By a 3-0 margin, the County Board of Supervisors actually voted YES to legally recognize his land as the Center of the World.
The next year, Jacques officially incorporated his land as the City of Felicity, named after his wife Felicia. This is the first town in America named after a Chinese woman. Jacques was elected mayor of the town of 2. He has remained mayor ever since.
Jacques needed a way to officially mark the Center of the World. Felicia had the idea “It’s in the desert, why not a pyramid?” So a pyramid was built.
Since the 1980’s Jacques has been slowly adding buildings and attractions to his town. He built a visitor center, a US post office/gift shop officially inaugurated by the Chinese consul who traveled 600 miles for the occasion and church built on an artificial hill that involved the movement of 150,000 tons of earth (he’s not religious, but figured it would bring people). He also bought a piece of the Eiffel Tower from his native France and created a sundial from a replica of the hand of God from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Jacques’ most ambitious task in Felicity is the Museum of History in Granite. The idea is to create a monument that would last for at least 10,000 years. The monument contains granite panels that are etched with descriptions and images from historical events or things that Jacques-Andre wanted preserved. Some of the sections of the monument are: History of Humanity, History of Arizona, Parachuting Hall of Fame, Members of Princeton University’s Class of 1949 (Jacques’ class), a Korean War Memorial, and History of the French Foreign Legion. The entire monument is over 900 panels, but only about 1/3 are currently engraved.
Jacques has also been keen on receiving various titles and designations for both himself and Felicity. In 1989, the French government’s Institut Geographique National also proclaimed Felicity the Center of the World. The town was a candidate for becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site. For the grand opening of the California and Arizona history sections of his monument, Jacques got the respective governors to attend the event. The French ambassador to the US attended the unveiling of the French Foreign Legion section. For the official unveiling of the Parachuting Hall of Fame, US Army Paratroopers will be parachuting into the site. The town’s website has quotes from notable people such as the Archbishop of New York and the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank.
You may be wondering how Jacques has the money to do all these expensive projects. It turns out that in between the parachuting and the children’s book, he worked in investment banking. There are also things to purchase in Felicity at the gift shop. For just $100, you can have your own granite square panel in the Maze of Honor.
A visit to Felicity costs $5 and includes a 15-minute tour. Make sure you go between Thanksgiving and Easter. Otherwise the town is closed because Jacques and Felicia are in New Hampshire.
After viewing a video narrated by Jacques, you are taken into the pyramid to stand at the Center of the World. The tour guide notes the exact time (to the minute) that you stepped onto the market. You are then given an official certificate of your visit. The guide will sign the certificate as an official witness. Then you are free to wander the rest of the town.
If you like bizarre roadside attractions and a good story, there is no better stop than Felicity and the Center of the World.