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SPECIAL REPORT: Journey to the Center of the World

FELICITY, Calif. (KYMA, KECY) - Ever thought about where the Center of the World is?

I bet you wouldn’t guess it’s located in the middle of the desert where Southern California meets the western Arizona border.

Felicity, California has a population of two.

So what makes this two-person town so special?

If you step inside the pyramid and step on the metal disk, you’ll be standing in the center of the world.

It's right off of Interstate 8 and the Imperial sand dunes called the Center of the World.

It's the mastermind of French-American Jacques-André Istel. 

Jacques was born in Paris in 1929, but when he was just 11 years old when the Nazi's occupied the City of Lights. 

He and his family left France in 1940 and arrived in New York. 

Attending multiple schools, he graduated from Princeton University in 1949.

He then served in the Korean War, earning the military rank of Lieutenant Colonel. 

In the 1950s, he purchased 2,600 acres of land not knowing what he wanted to do with it yet.

But after holding the title of “father of modern skydiving” and being the founder of the military free fall, he needed something to keep him busy.

“Essentially after I sold my parachute company, I did not know what to do and we had this large chunk of bare desert land so I told my wife, ‘Let’s go sit in the desert and think of something to do,'” said Istel.

Once the land was purchased, Jacques created a children’s book to persuade Imperial County to recognize a place on the property as the Center of the World.

After following through with the legalities of making the land into a city, Jacques named it after his wife Felicia lee.

He was about to embark on a lifelong journey in the city he founded where he is still mayor to this day.

“If you had told me I would create a museum, I would run out the door instantly," said Istel.

Jacques says there was intense strategic planning behind creating the Center of the World and the other monuments around it.

Just like parachuting, every little part of what we see today was carefully measured out. 

He just had one goal in his mind, longevity for what he was about to create.

“So, I gave the best cultural engineers in the southwest the following specifications, ‘Build me a monument to last 4,000 years,'" said Istel.

So, as one blueprint was finished another one began. 

Creating a pyramid, a chapel on the hill, obtaining the "Stairs to Nowhere", the Museum of History in Granite and a chessboard made of stones.

The museum is engraved with the history of both Arizona and California, the United States, humanity, pyramids, temples and so much more.

Over 900 granite panels were installed with various still empty.

Some wonder why Jacques chose to engrave history in Felicity, he says it’s so that future visitors can learn about the history of the world.

“Writing history in granite is quite arrogant and it’s a heavy responsibility, particularly, for an amateur historian like me," said Istel. "What we do is take vast subjects and summarize them totally, in a manner that we hope will cause visitors and students of the future to hit the books and learn more about each subjects.”

The Korean War veteran even created granite panels specifically sharing the history of that war.

He says in the 90s, 18,000 veterans paid to have their names in granite, but due to poor planning of someone Jacques trusted the money was lost.

Soon after, Jacques called in a special favor to the U.S. Marine Corps to get the job done.

“I was so irritated that I called some Marine Corps friends and said, ‘let’s show them what a few marines can do.’ and so, we built the Marine Corps Korean War memorial in one year.”

With an ample amount of engraved history written by one man, Jacques says the big question is 'What will people in the future think of his monuments'.

He says he made one panel in rosetta stone because of future language barriers.

“These words are going to be looked at presumably for centuries, so I would be quite curious to know what people will say," said Istel. "The idea came to do a rosetta stone because who will be able to read English in 3,000 years?”

As for some of the other monuments, Jacques doesn’t deem himself a religious man, but believes that if a church is going to be built anywhere it needs to be up high.

He brought in over 100,000 tons of dirt to create the foundation for the chapel, where the pyramid sits directly across it.

Another monument, the Stairway to Nowhere, was originally part of the Eiffel tower and is 25 feet high.

And these are just some of the sights you can find when you take a journey to the center of the world.

The 93-year-old ex-parachuter says he’s currently working on what will be engraved next. 

Article Topic Follows: Special Reports
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Jacqueline Aguilar

Jacqueline Aguilar is Yuma native who joined KYMA in January 2022.

Contact her with a story idea at jacqueline.aguilar@kecytv.com.

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