The Center of the World


Felicity, California

Less-charitable souls might call this corner of the California desert "the middle of nowhere." Jacques-Andre Istel, the self-proclaimed "Mayor of Felicity," prefers to call it The Center of the World. In fact, he has identified the exact spot and built 21-foot-tall pink granite pyramid over it! Also on the site Istel has built the outdoor Museum of History in Granite, a timeline consisting of hundreds of 2-inch-thick marble slabs weighing over 400 pounds each -- engineered to last 4,000 years! Beyond these few facts, during my visit I was frustrated in my attempts to learn much more about the site. The tour was brief and perfunctory; the guide (Istel's wife Felicia Lee, for whom the town was named) pointed out the alignment of the pyramid with the North Star, but informed me that no, there was no booklet or brochure for sale which would provide a deeper explanation. The tour includes a short video that is curiously short on background; Istel himself is briefly glimpsed in the video but is barely identified. The site itself is not laid out in a way to guide the visitor or provide context. A large number of the marble panels remain blank -- apparently it is a work in progress which will eventually reach far out into the surrounding desert. Before leaving, I spoke with Istel himself and found him to be congenial but perhaps too modest -- I couldn't coax any substantive thoughts out of him about the philosophy behind his creation. Perhaps the intent is for each visitor to discover their own meaning; we are each the center of our own world.

This spot on the floor inside the pyramid is the official center of the world: "Established by Law 21 May 1985 by the Board of Supervisors of Imperial County."

Those who stand on the spot get a signed certificate to commemorate the event.

The Museum of History in Granite includes the Wall For The Ages and a Korean War Memorial. On the manmade hill in the background is a nondenominational chapel modeled after one on Mont St. Michel in Brittany.

The display's images are beautifully etched into the granite slabs; here we see Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam" from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

The sundial reproduces the arm of God from Michelangelo's painting.

This "stairway to nowhere" is a 25-foot section of staircase that was salvaged from the Eiffel Tower in 1989.

Jacques-Andre Istel, the Mayor of Felicity.

Directions: 10 miles west of Yuma on Interstate 8, at the Sidewinder exit (exit # 164). Admission to the grounds is by voluntary donation ($5 at the time of my visit); a guided tour including the pyramid interior is an additional $2 per person.

Last visited: November 2008.

Standard disclaimer: Sites are described for entertainment purposes only, as they were at the time of my last visit. I can not vouch for the current condition of the site or its accessibility.

Revised: December 10, 2008
Copyright © 2008 Joe Orman
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