History of El Centro, California
From: The History of Imperial County, California
Edited by: F. C. Farr
Published by: Elms and Franks
Berkeley, CA 1918


ONE can understand how the few cities of the ancient world attained individualism that marked them for all time, and he can understand how a few modern cities simply by the exhibit of bulk can be conspicuous in world affairs. But can a little city of modern days attain an individualism without eccentricity?

There is reason to believe that this is being done by El Centro, and that almost without conscious endeavor by the populace. It is the capital, political and commercial, of the first country that has developed during the automobile age, and it is not strange that this modern vehicle, which has made the farmer a score of miles away a near neighbor, is working out here something different from that wrought elsewhere during the slow days of the lumber wagon and spring buggy.

As this is written there are ten towns in Imperial Valley, and before this book shall have ceased to be a work of reference in libraries the number may be expected to increase a hundred fold. These towns now and the invisible cities of the future like them circle about El Centro, all within an hour's drive by automobile, and we cannot doubt that what has proved universal elsewhere on earth will prove inevitable here, and that as time goes on that which is the metropolis now will become more metropolitan, and this without detracting from the fine attainments of the other towns of the Valley.

El Centro was not one of the original towns of the Valley. It sprang up later and avoided some of the mistakes that had been made elsewhere. The towns of the earlier pioneer days had started with the flimsy architecture adapted to the needs of the time, and while they were able to get away from that in time, El Centro from the first had the advantage of being cleanly built to meet the later requirements.

W. T. Bill as head of the El Centro Townsite Company filed the plat of the town in 1905. He was closely affiliated with W. F. Holt, who already was taking his position as the chief promoter of public utility corporations of this section. Through the initiative of the latter, the Holton Interurban Railroad was built from El Centro to Holtville, electric power and ice plants were installed, followed later by a gas plant, these institutions severally serving all or a good portion of the Valley from this town, and still later the interurban road was extended westwardly to become a part of the San Diego and Arizona Railroad. Mr. Holt also became the promoter of the first bank, and he and others began the erection of business buildings of a superior type for a town of tender years.

Imperial, in some of its better buildings, had set the pattern of arcades, and this type of structure, so splendidly adapted to a hot climate, became the universal type here and was passed on to the other towns of the Valley.

Full blocks of the arcade buildings, so much more sightly than the irregular and ragged looking awnings of other towns, makes a fine impression on the stranger, and gives a ship shapeness to the general appearance that has set a standard for other affairs of the community.

In the course of time there came the period of street paving, during which all the business streets and the main avenues leading to the boundaries of the city were rendered among the finest roadways to be found, and dust and mud ceased to be elements to contend with.

The primitive sewer system of the earliest days gave way in 1916 to an outfall sewer built in co-operation with Imperial, which extends through the latter town and thence to the northwest, where it empties into New River.

Only second in importance from the standpoint of sanitation is the filtration plant under construction at this time (spring of 1918), for the purification of water used for all purposes.

From the first, El Centro has taken a high position in the institutions that promote civilization. Its schools, churches and press have been of high standard, and they have had difficult work to accomplish because of the complexities of habits and ideals of its extremely cosmopolitan population. Natives of the northern and southern States are pretty evenly balanced, and these may be said to be the basic strata of the population. Overlying these, as next in period of arrival, is an extensive Swiss population, the individuals having been drawn from their native land by the great opportunities discovered in the dairy industry. They are a frugal, industrious people and are meeting with a high degree of success.

The next class to come in considerable numbers were colored people from the cotton States of the South. Among the colored people are a number of considerable intellectual attainment, and then there are some others. Schools and churches are affording the people of this race an opportunity and encouragement to attain higher development, and in this the general white sentiment is sympathetic and desirous of being helpful.

El Centro has not acquired a large Japanese population, many more East Indians, Mohammedans and Hindus being seen on the streets. These people are not residents of the town, however, being wholly rural in their habits.

In manufacturing lines there are the power interests, the extensive ice plant, the largest and most modern creamery west of the Missouri River, several gins and a cottonseed oil mill, and a beginning is being made this year on a large project looking to the dehydrating and canning of fruits and vegetables.

El Centro is distinctively a commercial and residence town. Its hotel accommodations far outrank the typical small city. The homes of the people are modern bungalows, a few with considerable indication of wealth and refinement. Numerous extensive farmers, having property at distant points in the Valley, have chosen this as their home. The stores of the town carry extensive stocks, and during trading hours the streets are lined with rows of automobiles that at times are so numerous as to render traffic difficult, these machines having brought customers from all parts of the Valley.

El Centro is a city with an eye distinctively to the future and with faith in the future. Its present 7500 population look confidently to a rapid multiplication of their numbers through the expansion of industries and the broadening of genuine opportunities.


In connection with his other interests in the Valley, Mr. W. F. Holt organized the Holton Power Company for the purpose of serving the cities and towns of the Valley with electrical energy and ice. The company was incorporated September 16, 1903, under the laws of California, for a period of fifty years. The principal place of business of the company from the date of its incorporation until May, 1916, was at Redlands, California.

The original capitalization was $500,000.00 stock in shares of $100.00 each. The capital stock was increased on June 15, 1905, to $1,000,000.00 to provide additional capital for improvements and extensions, and on July 18, 1911, to care for the further expansion of the business, was again increased to $1,500,000.00. At present there is issued and outstanding a total of $1,250,000.00. The company also has, issued and outstanding, a total of $937,000.00 in bonds. Owing to the wide extent of territory served and the sparse population as compared to older and more thickly settled sections, the company, during the development period of the Valley, has been under the necessity of making very heavy investments of capital, an adequate return on which is assured only after a long period of time, when the Valley becomes more fully developed.

The company serves the cities and towns of El Centro, Imperial, Brawley, Calexico, Calipatria and Holtville, as well as contiguous and intermediate territory. The company serves at present approximately 3500 customers; it maintains a central office at El Centro in charge of a district manager.

The Holton Power Company owns and operates two hydro electric power plants at Holtville, with a capacity of 1500 kilowatts, a steam generating plant at El Centro with a capacity of 250 kilowatts, and a gas electric generating plant (also located at El Centro) with a capacity of 750 kilowatts. The company has a total mileage of transmission and distribution lines in the Imperial Valley of 165 miles.

In the early part of 1916, owing to the necessity of providing increased generating capacity for the more adequate service of the public, Mr. Holt disposed of his interests in the company to the same interests controlling The Southern Sierras Power Company and other large hydro generating companies operating in the central part of the State, physical connection with the Southern Sierras system having been established by the construction of a transmission line from San Bernardino to El Centro in 1914. Upon the change in ownership the general offices were removed from Redlands to Riverside.

The present officers of the company are as follows: President and general manager, A. B. West; vice president, W. F. Holt; treasurer, A. S. Cooper; secretary, W. G. Driver.


In 1914, owing to the increased demand for electricity in the Imperial Valley, it became imperative for the Holton Power Company either to increase its generating capacity, by the construction of new generating plants in the Valley, or else connect with other companies who had a surplus of power to sell. The latter plan was decided to be most feasible and accordingly the Coachella Valley Ice and Electric Company was organized for the purpose of constructing and operating a transmission line extending from San Bernardino to El Centro, which served to inter connect the system of The Southern Sierras Power Company with that of the Holton Power Company. The Coachella Company at present owns and operates about 150 miles of transmission line.

The Coachella Valley Company, in addition to supplying current at wholesale to the Holton Power Company, also serves the public in the Coachella Valley, and furnishes electricity for the operation of the silt dredges of the Imperial Irrigation District at Hanlon's Heading, on the Colorado River, about 2400 horsepower being supplied for this purpose at the Heading.

The Coachella Valley Ice and Electric Company is incorporated under the laws of California, with an authorized capital stock of $300,000.00, all of which is issued and outstanding. The company is controlled and managed by the same interests that own The Southern Sierras Power Company and Holton Power Company, its headquarters also being located at Riverside.


Upon the acquirement of the Holton Power Company by the present management, it was deemed advisable to segregate the ice business from the electric operations in the Valley. Previous to that time the ice plants which served a large part (if not all) of the ice consumed in the Valley were owned and operated by the Holton Power Company. In June, 1916, The Imperial Ice & Development Company was incorporated with a capitalization of $1,000,000.00, for the purpose of taking over the ice manufacturing interests of the Holton Power Company and the Coachella Valley Ice and Electric Company, the latter company at that time owning and operating the ice plant located at Coachella. The Imperial Ice and Development Company not only enlarged the ice manufacturing plant of the Holton Power Company, but the increased demand for ice (particularly for the refrigeration of produce shipments from the Valley) necessitated the construction of additional plants. One plant with a rated output capacity of 30 tons per day and a storage capacity of 5000 tons was constructed at Brawley and completed January, 1917. The plant has an actual manufacturing capacity of about 40 tons per day.

The company not only supplies the general public throughout the Valley with ice, but also is under contract to supply the Pacific Fruit Express with a large proportion of the ice required by that company for refrigeration of shipments from the Valley. The main office of The Imperial Ice and Development Company is also located at Riverside and under the same management as the other companies. The company also operates the ice plant located at Coachella, with a daily capacity of 30 tons.


IT Is the consensus of opinion of the people of El Centro that the El Centro Volunteer Fire Department is a live organization, a credit to the community and to itself. It has a membership limited to twenty five members. The membership consists in the main part of business and professional men, the majority of whom have been members of this department for more than five years.

The department has grown from one wherein the sole equipment was a little, old two wheel cart to one which is now equipped with a combination -automobile hose and chemical wagon and an auto pump and hose truck, together with a hook and ladder truck. The department is housed in spacious quarters and has elegant club rooms, the furnishings of which are among the finest in the entire state, the same being owned by the members of the department.

The department has furnished its quota of men to the national army, together with hundreds of dollars in cash to the government patriotic associations, among which were liberal cash donations to the Red Cross and $700 for an ambulance.

The citizens of El Centro at all times exercise the privilege of calling on the department to aid the community in those things which are for the betterment of all concerned, and the department always responds in a way that guarantees success.

One of the most notable efforts of the fire department was when, on the last day of the second Liberty Loan drive, members of the department collected in the neighborhood of $150,000 from the city of El Centro.

The department has a business organization in connection with its fire department organization. The fire alarms are sounded by whistle, the town being divided into districts. Officials of the city and people familiar with fire departments and organizations throughout the United States have been very liberal in their favorable comment as to the efficiency and equipment of this department. A spirit of cooperation exists between this department and departments of other towns in the Valley, all of which departments are volunteer organizations, equipped with modern apparatus, and it can well be said that the entire membership of all the departments represents the best citizenship of the Valley.

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