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A Tiny Town Continues Its World Strategy : Image-Building Felicity Adds a Post Office for the Pyramid

November 30, 1987|JEANNINE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

There's not much to see in Felicity, Calif. The desert town, which borders Interstate 8 near Yuma, Ariz., boasts a general store, a brasserie , a house and a pyramid.

Yet its founder is quite pleased with the way things have gone so far.

"People say, 'You've been at it for a year, why haven't you put up 100 houses?' " says Jacques-Andre Istel, the 58-year-old founder and the mayor of Felicity. "If I had, I could possibly have gone broke. Also, that's not the right approach. The right approach is to let matters grow, I believe, slowly."

Named After Felicia

True to his word, the town has been growing--very, very slowly. The French-born Istel, 58, and his wife, Felicia (for whom the town is named), live upstairs from the general store. The only house that has been built in town so far is rented by a couple who run the brasserie. They and their two children have caused the population to triple.

Yet Istel isn't worried. "I am very wary of rapid expansion taking place in this area," he explains. "I do not consider myself a developer. I consider myself a person who is building a pleasant village/town and keeping up the quality of life."

Istel bought the 2,800 acres of land that is Felicity in 1959, then got the Imperial County Board of Supervisors to vote it a town in March 1986. His vision is of a small city of 30,000 emerging from desert sands with clean water, interesting industries and low-cost housing. Some of those ideas are currently before the county planning commission, he says.

But so far the town's main attraction is the Center of the World, a little bit of tourist-luring whimsy housed in the pyramid and born of a children's book that Istel wrote in 1984 about a dragon searching for the center of the world and finding it in a new town called Felicity. The Board of Supervisors read the book in 1985 and passed a resolution declaring the center of the world to be in Felicity.

And Istel housed it in a pyramid ("What else do you put up in the desert?" he asks) and opened it to tourists. About 15,000 have already passed through, he says.

Post Office Opening

Now comes the Felicity post office. Not a whole post office, just a contract station inside the general store. The official invitations have been sent out for the inauguration Saturday, which will be marked by a special first-day cancellation of stamps from The Center of the World. Those wishing to send pre-stamped mail for that cancellation should mail their cards or letters in a separate envelope by Dec. 3 to Box 1000, Felicity, Calif. 92283.

Sitting in his office above the brasserie, Istel looks to the future and admits that "I suffer a little bit from the desire of not wanting too many people around.

"We love this area, and on one hand we enjoy it exactly the way it is," he adds. "That's the reason we decided not to put up 'Felicity' signs the whole first year, because enough people were coming to keep the place alive. We didn't want it to become a very junior Disneyland."

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