History in Granite, Felicity, California.
History in Granite, Felicity, California.

Monuments Man: Mayor Istel's History in Granite Dedication

Field review by the editors.

Felicity, California

On George Washington's birthday (the real one, not the holiday) in 2014, local politicians, members of the armed forces, and parachutists gathered among the 100-ft. long granite wedges spread out near the Center of the World in Felicity. Mayor Jacques-Andre Istel, 85, dedicated a new swath of his History in Granite project.

Mayor Jacques-Andre Istel and the USMC color guard.
Mayor Jacques-Andre Istel and the USMC color guard.

We first wrote about Felicity in New Roadside America (1992), and made later forays to see what was underway in the desert west of Yuma. The whimsical Center of the World, salvaged Eiffel Tower staircase, and pointing arm of Michelangelo's God were forerunners to Istel's more serious vision for the ages: a vast array of 461 etched granite panels chronicling Humanity's milestones.

The gravity of the project, if not its sheer weight, has of late attracted more mainstream exposure. On the same day as the Dedication, the New York Times Magazine ran a feature story titled "A Journey to the Center of the World."

Here comes the American flag.
Here comes the American flag.

The day's events began with a ceremony at the Church on the Hill (another of his creations, modeled after a structure in Brittany), then shifted to the skies above with jumps by the Pioneers of Parachuting. Next, Mayor Istel assembled the crowd in front of the Hall of Fame of Parachuting monument and announced new inductees.

Jacques-Andre has a great sense of timing and a sly humor in his public speaking. He couldn't resist slipping in quips between many of the official introductions. "The city administrator, the mayor of Yuma, the deputy mayor -- would you please come over here and show yourselves -- you might even pick up a vote." Later, he jokingly admonished officials invited from California for failing to improve the road into Felicity.

Interesting Times.
Timeline of Achievements.

At four o'clock, a seated crowd watched a US Marine Corps color guard, the arrival of a large American flag by parachute, and more speeches. A procession of dignitaries rang a replica Liberty Bell, a ring for each of the 13 original colonies, for the arts (The mayor notes: "dealing with artists is excellent practice for when we get to meet folks from other planets"), for education, for branches of the military, for the covert heroes of the OSS/CIA.

Mayor Istel found a few moments where speaking in French or Spanish was appropriate. He warned the crowd that they would not want to hear his Chinese.

For the final ring of the bell, Mayor Istel told the audience he'd considered selecting one of them totally at random, trusting that the "law of averages would make it unlikely that it was a serial killer." His partners in the event talked him out of it, and instead made a choice that no one would dispute: the mayor's wife, Felicia Istel (the town is named after her), and the organizing power behind the throne.

Mayor Istel scopes out another target for recognition.
Mayor Istel scopes out another target for recognition.

Felicia stepped up to the front, and looked at her husband, who suddenly seemed unsure of his next step. Then he turned to an associate and said: "You tell her to do it. When I tell her, she doesn't do it." Mrs. Istel rang the Liberty Bell, Mayor Istel leaned over to kiss her forehead and then her hand, and the crowd applauded in appreciation.

As large as the granite panels are, there is only so much room for the story of America, and Jacques-Andre Istel has carefully curated, edited and rewritten the content before its commitment to stone. The artist who does all of the etching, pressed by the Dedication's approach, ended up working at night to complete the final panels.

A courtly kiss for Felicia from Mayor Istel.
A courtly kiss for Felicia from Mayor Istel.

In the hubbub of the dedication event, we didn't get to read much carefully. Certain items stood out -- a timeline of achievements titled "Interesting Times," where, between "Polio Vaccine" and "End of Segregation," is "TV Mute Button." A panel devoted to "American Beverage and Food," is next to one on "Coping with Terrorism;" the stippled drawing of the collapsed WTC and a Big Mac compete for your attention.

While anyone can rewrite and edit a Wikipedia entry, the permanent nature of the History in Granite project assures that Jacque-Andre Istel's version of our affairs will remain relatively unmolested. A local journalist, who told us he assisted a bit in researching some of the historical information, pointed some miles southwest at a line of sand dunes. "Eventually this will be covered in sand. Those dunes move closer every year."

Mayor Istel seemed unconcerned. "Won't this be wonderful for some future archeologist to uncover!"

Also see: Official Center of the World

Official Center of the World

Address:
1 Center of the World Dr., Felicity, CA
Directions:
Take the I-8 Sidewinder exit 164. North side, follow signs for Felicity.
Hours:
Daily from Dec-Mar. Honor fee Apr.-Nov. while unstaffed. (Call to verify)
Phone:
760-572-0100
Admission:
$3/person, $2 addtl. for tour and certificate.
RA Rates:
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