Off the beaten path

The Semi-Recognized Center of the World

One would think that the title of “Center of the World” would be reserved for the middle of the Earth’s core. But according to the French government and the Imperial county of California this designation belongs to the one and only town of Felicity, California — a tourist economy in a town of two. So how did this tiny town in the middle of the desert get designated with such a lofty title? The answer, it can be said, is that it fell right out of the sky.

Jacques-André Istel made a name for himself as a famed parachutist, serving in the Marines during the Korean War. He made his fortune by flying, too, when he co-founded Parachutes, Inc., America’s first parachuting school that sparked the flame of the modern skydiving industry. 

So if the next few things we tell you sound a bit too outlandish to be true, just remember that our friend Jacques-André is a man on a mission… with the money to back it up.

After falling in love with the arid lands of the Sonoran Desert during his time as a serviceman, Jacques-André bought thousands of acres, stretching from Interstate 8, all the way up to the Chocolate Mountains in the north. His future plans were fuzzy having been quoted saying “I don’t know what I’m going to do with this bare land, but it has to be entertaining. Luckily, his first step was clear: In 1986 he incorporated the town of Felicity, named after his wife, Felicia. 

An election was soon held, and in a landslide victory of 3 votes to 0, Jacques-André became mayor. As the leader of this enterprising community, he succeeded in literally putting it on the map — now he was tasked with doing so figuratively.

And at that, Jacques-Andre succeeded, too. He convinced California’s Imperial County to recognize his land as the Center of the World, and he marked the spot with a giant pyramid. At twenty one feet tall, the pink granite mirror-lined structure marks the spot. At the center of it? Yep, “the center” itself, commemorated with a metal disk set into the pyramid’s floor.


Next, the mayor decided his town could use a place of worship. But there was just one little problem: Jacques-Andre believed that a House of God is meant for the highest spot in town. Felicity, though, is flat. 150,000 tons of dirt later, Felicity had its hill — and now it has its church (dedicated, of course, to St. Felicity). With its glaring white walls and bright blue door, you can’t miss this house on the hill surrounded by acres of desert.

On your visit, even more attractions await, including the World Commemorative Center (which tells the history of world, etched into granite), an arm-shaped sundial (modeled after Michelangelo’s portrayal of God), and a spiral staircase to nowhere (sitting in Felicity after a long stint inside… the Eiffel Tower). 

So for 3 bucks (plus 2 more to reach the center of the pyramid), Jacque-Andres and Felicia will welcome you as the only two residents of their town, showing you the center of the world, smack dab in a world unto its own. 

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