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El Centro, California
City
City of El Centro
Imperial County Courthouse in El Centro
Imperial County Courthouse in El Centro
Official seal of El Centro, California
Seal
Location in Imperial County and the state of California
Location in Imperial County and the state of California
Country United States
State California
County Imperial
Incorporated April 16, 1908
Area
 • City 11.099 sq mi (28.746 km2)
 • Land 11.081 sq mi (28.700 km2)
 • Water 0.018 sq mi (0.046 km2)  0.16%
Elevation -42 ft (-12 m)
Population (2013)
 • City 44,124
 • Density 3,975.49/sq mi (1,534.96/km2)
 • Urban 56,006
 • Metro 163,972
Time zone Pacific (PST) (UTC-8)
 • Summer (DST) PDT (UTC-7)
ZIP codes 92243-92244
Area codes 442/760
FIPS code 06-21782
GNIS feature IDs 1656501, 2410409

El Centro is a city in and county seat of Imperial County, California, the largest city in the Imperial Valley, east anchor of the Southern California Border Region, and the core urban area and principal city of the El Centro metropolitan area which encompasses all of Imperial County. El Centro is also the largest American city to lie entirely below sea level (−42 feet or −13 meters). The city, located in the far southeastern corner of California, is near the major Southern California city of San Diego and the Mexican city of Mexicali.

Founded in 1906, W. F. Holt and C.A. Barker purchased the land on which El Centro was eventually built for about $40 per acre ($100 per hectare) and invested $100,000 in improvements. As one historian of valley life put it, "in only five months El Centro went from a barley field to a city...". It is home to retail, transportation, wholesale, and agricultural industries. There are also two international border crossings nearby for commercial and noncommercial vehicles. The city's population was 42,598 at the 2010 census, up from 37,835 in 2000.

History

Juan Bautista de Anza
Juan Bautista de Anza Bezerra Nieto

Spanish explorer Melchor Díaz was one of the first Europeans to visit the area around El Centro and Imperial Valley in 1540. The explorer Juan Bautista de Anza also explored the area in 1776 (an elementary school in El Centro now bears his name). Years later, after the Mexican-American War, the northern half of the valley was annexed by the U.S., while the southern half remained under Mexican rule. Small scale settlement in natural aquifer areas occurred in the early 19th century (the present-day site of Mexicali), but most permanent settlement (Anglo Americans on the U.S. side, Mexicans on the other side) was after 1900.

Originally part of San Diego County, the Imperial Valley was settled by farmers once water from the Colorado River was diverted via canals to irrigate the desert valley floor.

In 1906, the land on which El Centro was later built was purchased by W. F. Holt and C.A. Barker.

By 1907 Imperial County was incorporated into California and by then much of the valley was successfully irrigated.

Before the town began, the railroad had established a station and named the place Cabarker. The name honored C.A. Barker, a friend of the landowner. The first post office in El Centro opened in 1905.

The City of El Centro was incorporated on April 16, 1908. By 1910, the population of the city had reached 1,610. By 1920 it was 5,646. One reason for this rapid growth was El Centro's becoming the county seat of Imperial County.

Population growth was slow, but accelerated in the 1930s, and again in the 1940s, despite the city being hard hit by a 7.1 earthquake in May 1940.

By the mid-1940s, El Centro had become the second largest city in the Imperial Valley, with a population of about 11,000 people. El Centro had also become the location of the Imperial Irrigation District (IID) administrative offices.

Agriculture has been an important industry within El Centro since the 1940s, because of its strategic location near rail lines and Highways 80 and 99 – more than 35 growers and shippers still operate in El Centro. However, by the early 1980s the two largest employment sectors in El Centro were government and wholesale/retail trade, reflecting El Centro's emerging role as a regional administrative and commercial center.

Imperial Valley Mall opened on the southeast side of the city in 2005.

Sites of interest

The nearby Algodones Dunes, the largest dune field in the US, draws thousands of visitors each year, mainly for off-road driving. The Salton Sea lies 30 miles (48 km) north of El Centro, but water sport enthusiasts head to the Colorado River, 50 miles (80 km) to the east near Yuma, Arizona. The El Centro Naval Air Facility 10 miles (16 km) to the west is home to the annual Blue Angels flight maneuvering event. Stark Field is home of a minor league baseball team El Centro Imperials of the Arizona Summer League. Mexico (the border city of Mexicali, Baja California) is 10 miles (16 km) away, which offers big city amenities like museums, a zoo and a sports/convention center.

Geography

Salton Sea from Space
The Imperial Valley, as seen from the Space Shuttle. North is to the upper right. The Salton Sea is at the center. The US-Mexican border is a diagonal in the lower left.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 11.1 square miles (29 km2), of which over 99% is land.

El Centro is located in the Imperial Valley (considered locally as synonymous with Imperial County). The city is 50 feet (15 m) below sea level and the largest city in the United States below sea level. The Imperial Valley is in the Colorado Desert, an extension of the larger Sonoran Desert.

The agriculture industry's demand for water is supplied by canals diverting water from the nearby Colorado River. The Salton Sea was created after a 1905 flood from the Colorado River.

In this region, the geology is dominated by the transition of the tectonic plate boundary from rift to fault. The southernmost strands of the San Andreas Fault connect the northern-most extensions of the East Pacific Rise. Consequently, the region is subject to earthquakes, and the crust is being stretched, resulting in a sinking of the terrain over time.

Climate

El Centro has a desert climate and is the southernmost desert city below sea level in the continental United States. El Centro has over 350 days of sunshine and under 3 inches (76 mm) of rain annually. Winter temperatures are in the mid 70s to mid 80s with over-night lows in the low 50s to mid 40s. During summer days, the dry, desert heat can push temperatures well into the 100s, while the nights stay in the low 80s to mid 70s. Snow is almost totally unknown in the town, except for a very strong winter storm that covered the entire valley with 4 inches snow on December 12, 1934 and a very brief fall of sleet mixed with hail during a shower in December 1967. On average there are about 6 days that dip into the mid to lower 30's.

Climate data for El Centro 2 SSW, California (1981–2010) extremes 1932–present
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 90
(32.2)
93
(33.9)
102
(38.9)
109
(42.8)
116
(46.7)
121
(49.4)
122
(50)
124
(51.1)
120
(48.9)
112
(44.4)
98
(36.7)
95
(35)
124
(51.1)
Average high °F (°C) 69.7
(20.94)
72.8
(22.67)
77.8
(25.44)
86.0
(30)
94.5
(34.72)
102.7
(39.28)
106.7
(41.5)
105.8
(41)
101.4
(38.56)
90.9
(32.72)
78.4
(25.78)
69.5
(20.83)
88.4
(31.33)
Average low °F (°C) 39.4
(4.11)
46.6
(8.11)
50.2
(10.11)
55.9
(13.28)
63.2
(17.33)
70.1
(21.17)
77.8
(25.44)
79.6
(26.44)
72.4
(22.44)
60.0
(15.56)
54.9
(12.72)
44.8
(7.11)
59.4
(15.22)
Record low °F (°C) 14
(-10)
22
(-5.6)
21
(-6.1)
33
(0.6)
36
(2.2)
42
(5.6)
52
(11.1)
54
(12.2)
48
(8.9)
33
(0.6)
24
(-4.4)
22
(-5.6)
14
(-10)
Precipitation inches (mm) 0.50
(12.7)
0.47
(11.9)
0.32
(8.1)
0.06
(1.5)
0.03
(0.8)
0.01
(0.3)
0.07
(1.8)
0.28
(7.1)
0.34
(8.6)
0.38
(9.7)
0.19
(4.8)
0.43
(10.9)
3.07
(78)

Culture

Calexico&MexicaliFromTheISS
El Centro, seen from the International Space Station, lies just north of Calexico and Mexicali and the Mexico-US border

While the majority of the residents in this community are Hispanic, there is a diverse population with a wide array of interests. In the winter residents race on nearby sand dunes using four wheel drive buggies. During the summer residents spend time indoors instead of outside. Spanish is a dominant language among residents and over the radio. Many area residents live in both the United States and Mexico and go across the border frequently.

Demographics

Historical population
Census Pop.
1910 1,618
1920 5,790 257.8%
1930 8,437 45.7%
1940 10,174 20.6%
1950 12,548 23.3%
1960 16,830 34.1%
1970 19,973 18.7%
1980 24,829 24.3%
1990 32,192 29.7%
2000 37,294 15.8%
2010 42,598 14.2%
Est. 2015 44,124 3.6%
U.S. Decennial Census

2010

The 2010 United States Census reported that El Centro had a population of 42,598. The population density was 3,838.1 people per square mile (1,481.9/km²). The racial makeup of El Centro was 25,376 (59.6%) White, 1,081 (2.5%) African American, 554 (1.3%) Native American, 965 (2.3%) Asian, 34 (0.1%) Pacific Islander, 12,356 (29.0%) from other races, and 2,232 (5.2%) from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 34,751 persons (81.6%).

The Census reported that 41,782 people (98.1% of the population) lived in households, 296 (0.7%) lived in non-institutionalized group quarters, and 520 (1.2%) were institutionalized.

There were 13,108 households, out of which 6,257 (47.7%) had children under the age of 18 living in them, 6,550 (50.0%) were opposite-sex married couples living together, 2,845 (21.7%) had a female householder with no husband present, 815 (6.2%) had a male householder with no wife present. There were 804 (6.1%) unmarried opposite-sex partnerships, and 58 (0.4%) same-sex married couples or partnerships. Of the households, 2,458 (18.8%) were made up of individuals and 1,004 (7.7%) had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.19. There were 10,210 families (77.9% of all households); the average family size was 3.64.

The population was spread out with 12,671 people (29.7%) under the age of 18, 4,803 people (11.3%) aged 18 to 24, 10,661 people (25.0%) aged 25 to 44, 9,907 people (23.3%) aged 45 to 64, and 4,556 people (10.7%) who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 31.8 years. For every 100 females there were 94.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.3 males.

There were 14,476 housing units at an average density of 1,304.3 per square mile (503.6/km²), of which 6,488 (49.5%) were owner-occupied, and 6,620 (50.5%) were occupied by renters. The homeowner vacancy rate was 2.8%; the rental vacancy rate was 7.2%. 21,429 people (50.3% of the population) lived in owner-occupied housing units and 20,353 people (47.8%) lived in rental housing units.

2000

As of the census of 2000, there were 37,835 people, 11,439 households, and 8,910 families residing in the city. The population density was 3,950.2 people per square mile (1,524.9/km²). There were 12,263 housing units at an average density of 1,280.3 per square mile (494.2/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 46.9% White, 3.2% Black or African American, 1.0% Native American, 3.5% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 41.7% from other races, and 3.7% from two or more races. 74.6% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 11,439 households out of which 47.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 53.9% were married couples living together, 18.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 22.1% were non-families. Of all households, 18.8% were made up of individuals and 7.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.2 and the average family size was 3.7.

In the city, the population was spread out with 33.6% under the age of 18, 9.7% from 18 to 24, 28.9% from 25 to 44, 18.5% from 45 to 64, and 9.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 30 years. For every 100 females there were 96.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 93.5 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $33,161, and the median income for a family was $36,910. Males had a median income of $36,753 versus $24,514 for females. The per capita income for the city was $13,874. About 20.6% of families and 22.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 29.5% of those under age 18 and 14.8% of those age 65 or over.

In 2009 the Latinos in El Centro mainly consisted of dual citizens and permanent resident card (green card) holders. Illegal immigrants tended to go through Imperial County instead of staying in Imperial County.

Transportation

Freeways and highways

There are three major highways that serve El Centro. Interstate 8 connects San Diego to the west and Yuma, Arizona to the east. State Route 86 and State Route 111 parallel each other as they go north to Brawley before running along the west and east shores of the Salton Sea, respectively, on their way to the Coachella Valley area. Going south from El Centro, State Route 86 terminates at State Route 111, which runs to Calexico and Mexicali, Mexico.

Public transportation

Imperial Valley Transit is the primary provider of mass transportation in the Imperial Valley. Formed in 1989 with just 3 buses and serving just 3000 people per month, the agency now currently serves more than 73,000 riders within the area per month.

Through a partnership between Imperial County Transportation Commission (ICTC), the Yuma County Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority (YCIPTA), and the Quechan Indian Tribe, Yuma County Area Transit Turquoise Route 10 buses stop at El Centro locations and connects it to Winterhaven, California and Yuma, Arizona.

Greyhound Lines provides intercity bus service to El Centro.

Airports

  • Imperial County Airport is located in nearby Imperial. Service is subsidized by the Essential Air Service program. The nearest large international airports are San Diego International Airport and Mexicali International Airport.
  • Naval Air Facility El Centro is a U.S. Navy airfield
  • Douthitt Strip Airport is a former military airfield, now private use.

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