According to the French government and California’s Imperial County, the official center of the world lies in the town of Felicity in California’s Sonora Desert. There is no scientific or political reason for the designation, but only the effort of Jacques-André Istel and his wife Felicity Lee (the town’s namesake), who founded the town in 1986.
Jacques-André made his name and fortune as a famous French-American parachutist and co-founder of Parachutes, Inc., which produced parachuting equipment and opened the first parachuting school in the United States. He is credited as a key figure in popularizing parachuting in America and has been referred to as the “father of American skydiving.” In 1985 he wrote the children’s book “Coe: The Good Dragon at the Center of the World” about a dragon that lived at the center of the world, which served as the inspiration behind the town’s creation.
After Istel was unanimously voted mayor, in a 3-0 vote, he erected a pyramid to mark the exact spot of the world’s “center.” Over the last 25-years, Istel added many sights to his town, including a beautiful traditional-style church on a man-made hillside (modeled after a church in Brittany), a lone outdoor 25-foot staircase that was formerly part of the Eiffel Tower, a checkered field of flowers, and a 15-foot bronze sundial that incorporates Michelangelo’s Arm of God. The most ambitious of his additions is the Museum of History in Granite, World Heritage Site candidate (“Design worth the trip” TIME magazine), which currently consists of 18 one-hundred foot triangle-shaped granite monuments, meant to “engrave in granite highlights of the collective memory of humanity.” The completed subjects so far include “The History of Arizona”, “The History of California”, “The History of the United States”, “The United States Marine Corps Korean War Memorial” (in which Istel served), “The History of French Aviation”, and “The History of the French Foreign Legion”. The eight monument “History of Humanity” is built but only 30% engraved to date. Two new monuments will have “Animals of the World”.
Visitors to the site between Thanksgiving and Easter will receive a 15 minute tour and signed certificate declaring that they have been to “the center of the world.”
Know Before You Go
North of Interstate 8, exit 164. Visitors are welcome to visit between Thanksgiving and Easter and can receive a 15 minute tour and signed certificate declaring that they have been to “the center of the world.” A donation of $3 per person is requested at the entrance and an extra $2 is charged for the certificate.