The Heart of Kensington - Neighborhood Preservation Advocacy

Happy 100th Birthday, Kensington!

The first subdivision, Kensington Park, was mapped on April 8, 1910 and opened for the sale of lots on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1910.  In honor of that historic event, Kensington residents opened their homes for another successful historic home tour!

April 24, 2010 - Annual Landmarked Homes of Kensington Tour

Stop peeking in windows and stroll right on in!  April 24th was the date for the ‘Centennial Edition’ Landmarked Homes of Kensington tour, and everyone was invited to see the interiors and exteriors of some of the finest historically designated houses in Kensington.

Beautiful homes and their designers were showcased via an “open house” format, and tour participants had the opportunity to see one of the city’s oldest planned residential projects, meet with historians, and explore Kensington.


The houses that were open for the tour in 2010 were:


  • The Edward C. Mann House - 1929
  • The A.L. and Cleveland Dennstedt House - 1941
  • 5301 Marlborough Drive - 1933
  • The Wonder House of Stone - 1926
  • The Florence E. Mead House - 1931
  • The Dr. James and Leona Parker House - 1923
HRB Site #515 - 1929 Edward C. Mann House

This four bedroom house was built by the famed Bathrick Brothers Company of Pasadena and is a classic example of Spanish Eclectic architecture. The house was built for Dr. Edward C. and Mrs. Betty Avery Mann, and its historical significance is attributed to both the exemplary architecture as well as the association with Dr. Mann. In 1901, Dr. Mann was attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York when an assassin shot President William McKinley, who was also attending the event.  Dr. Mann was one of the first physicians called to attend to the President.  Dr. Edward Mann administered morphine to the President, while his father, Dr. Matthew D. Mann performed surgery in an attempt to remove the bullets.  Congress awarded Dr. Mann a gold watch for his role in attempting to save the President's life.

The walls are rusticated plaster made to resemble stonework (original).  The Moorish arches are original, as is the stairway. 
The owners removed the (non-original) paint that had covered the original ceiling beams and removed carpeting from the original hardwood floors.   The flooring is all original, 1 ½ inch hardwood.  The fireplace, the niches on each side, and the two round windows on each side are original. 
The bathroom, with its original tile and built-ins, is a classic design for the period. What looks like black tile is actually cobalt (which can be seen on the curving pieces if the sunlight is just right).

The front door is a signature of the Bathrick Brothers and is a heavy, arched medieval door.  The outside entry niche contains an original pair of tiles from the Muresque Tile Company of Pasadena.  The hardware on all the doors is original.

HRB Site #170 - 1910 Duehn - Saint John Residence

This year, event headquarters was located at the historic 1910 Duehn-St. John Residence at 4720 Kensington Drive.  This beautiful Craftsman house, now the home of the Fraternal Spiritualist Church, is the oldest and the first house in Kensington to be historically designated.


Built by the firm of Powell and Fogg for German immigrants, Louis Duehn and his wife, Hulda, the original residence had two stories containing six rooms with hardwood floors and a bath. A spacious veranda and a large screen porch set off the outside of the home. The cost was $2,700.00, which included a small carriage house and was landscaped. This house is significant because it predates the later overwhelming Spanish Mediterranean influence in the area, and was built in the first year that the Kensington Park subdivision was opened.


In 1914 the Duehns sold the house to Silas St. John, an original character of the Old West. The Duehns relocated to 4669 Edgeware Road.


Born in New York on April 21, 1835, Silas St. John arrived in California at the age of 18. Working first for gold, then for the railroad, finally he became a stage driver for the Great Overland Mail Route 12578. He drove the first eastbound overland mail out of San Diego from Carrizo Creek to Fort Yuma, November 16, 1857 in 32 hours.


The line failed and was taken over by the Butterfield Overland Mail. He continued working as a driver. On September 8, 1858, he was standing watch at the Dragoon Springs Station when it was attacked. After a rather bloody battle, he alone survived. He was found eight days later, near death. His left arm had to be removed. Six weeks later he left for New York.


He returned to the West as a Federal Indian agent, then back to New York as an express company executive, back west to Phoenix as an agricultural editor, and then to Prescott where he was thrown from a buggy. He came back to San Diego and moved into 4720 Kensington Drive, his last home. Death came on September 15, 1919. His last trip was to Mt. Hope cemetery. Benjamin Pierce Cheney, a Wells Fargo executive, commissioned Donal Hord to create a bronze plaque for the grave. It is inscribed, “Of His Stuff The West Was Made.”

And of her stuff Kensington is made!  In honor of Kensington’s centennial celebration, Darlene Baumann Love and Howard Baumann commissioned a reprinting of their father’s book, Kensington-Talmadge, 1910-1985. Dr. Thomas Baumann was the source of much material on the business district provided in the 2010 tour booklet.


Here’s Darlene enjoying a beautiful day at the Duehn-St. John Residence tour headquarters, with copies of her father’s book for sale.

HRB Site #664 - 1941 A.L. and Cleveland Dennstedt House

The 1941 A.L. and Cleveland Dennstedt House is an excellent example of pre-war 1940s Old English Manor style architecture and representative of the shift away from the Spanish Eclectic design themes of the “Southern California Style” that dominated Kensington in its formative years from the 1920s-1930s. The house overlooks Mission Valley, and is part of the Kensington Heights Unit #3 subdivision, which was mapped on September 28, 1926.


Through their companies, the Dennstedts built many homes, commercial buildings, and apartments in San Diego and their architectural contributions are an important part of San Diego’s building legacy. The A.L. and Cleveland Dennstedt House is significant because it was the personal residence of the builder and his family, and the house remains in the family today.

The house was the home of the builder’s daughter, Alberta Marjory Dennstedt, who lived in the house from the time it was built in 1941 until she passed away on October 20, 2009.


The furnishings and decorative items were all original to the house.  Almost every feature of the house is original, including the fireplace.  The wall-to-wall carpeting in the living room is original and was made with a sewn-in rug pad to accommodate the large Persian rug that is on top of it.

Alberta Dennstedt graduated from Point Loma High School and then from San Diego State in 1942 with a degree in Art and a minor in history.  She was interested in fashion design, and many clothes designed and sewn by Alberta were displayed on the tour. 

Alberta’s original watercolor drawings of clothes she designed were also on display.

The kitchen stove is the original O’Keefe and Merritt, and all tile in the house is original.   That’s current owner, Larry Dennstedt, welcoming us to his family home.

5301 Marlborough Drive - 1933

Located in the Kensington Heights Unit 3 subdivision, the 1933 Bathrick Bros. Spec House is a two-story Spanish Eclectic style house that has had several additions over the years that mask its true identity. Some elements of the Monterrey style remain, with the second story balcony and heavy wooden doors ornamented with studs.


Developer George Forbes invested his family oil fortune in the development of Kensington Heights and arranged with the Davis-Baker Company of Pasadena to design a higher end subdivision with paved streets, sidewalks, fancy crowned street lamps, and underground utilities. Forbes and Davis-Baker formed the “Architectural Committee” to oversee the building design for all homes in Kensington Heights, demonstrating to the public the exclusivity of the development. The committee of one consisted of architect Richard Requa. All homes built in Kensington Heights during the Davis-Baker era had to meet with the approval of Requa, and reflect his interest in the historical heritage of the Colonial style of Old Mexico, the Pueblos of the Southwest, and the Moorish features from Spain and North Africa, which he saw as being pertinent to our San Diego climate.

Entry is through the patio and doorway on the Ridgeway side of the house.  The house originally had an additional entry door directly opposite, which was entered through a courtyard from the Marlborough side of the house.  The remaining entry door is recessed in an arch and is a heavy medieval style door.  Note the original exterior features, including the second floor balcony and the grilled window to the left of the entry.

The front living room is used by the family as a music room.  In the living room is the owner's collection of six antique bass instruments, all at least 200 years old.  They are displayed in a large cabinet custom-made for the basses.  The entire family plays instruments, including piano, cello and violin.

The house was recently redecorated throughout and features colorful tile in the kitchen befitting its Spanish heritage.

HRB Site #464 - The Wonder House of Stone - 1926

The 1926 Wonder House of Stone was designed by local architectural designer Ralph E. Hurlburt and built by Los Angeles contractor and Master Builder, L.J. Faulkner, utilizing the construction methods of noted New York architect, Ernest Flagg, known as the Flagg Economical System of Building. The two story French Eclectic house became the architectural focus of the development of Talmadge Park Unit 1 between 1926 and 1929. This subdivision was promoted and managed by Roy C. Lichty, and opened for sale on January 3, 1926 to much fanfare. Silent movie stars Constance, Norma and Natalie Talmadge, Buster Keaton and other Hollywood notables were recruited by the subdivision’s investors to attract attention to the opening day ceremonies.

The house is constructed of Dolomite marble with 15 inch monolithic walls. After completion of the house on July 17, 1926, developer Roy C. Lichty assumed ownership of the property and used the building as the Talmadge Park sales office. The house, completely furnished and draped by the Bledsoe Furniture Company, was opened daily to the public beginning on August 29, 1926.

The living room features original stenciled beams and an original mural of a castle, above the window, is original.  When the house was first used by Lichty as a sales office there was no electricity, therefore no lighting.  The chandelier was added by a previous owner.  Look up to see the “Juliet balcony” on the second floor.
We love our docents, and really appreciate the help that we get from our friends at Mission Hills Heritage, including Kim Adler, who enjoyed her time at the Wonder House of Stone.
The Florence E. Mead House - 1931

Built in 1931, the Florence E. Mead House is a 2 story Italian Renaissance Revival built on a lot that was purchased by philanthropist Florence E. Mead. On opening day of the Talmadge Park Unit 1 subdivision, the Talmadge sisters famously planted a Norfolk Pine tree on the lot line between this house and the one to the north. While the tree was subsequently cut down, the stump can still be seen from the back deck of the house.

Developer Roy Lichty touted the “high resale value” of the homes in this neighborhood, stating that savvy buyers would “bequeath their children a Negotiable Asset instead of a White Elephant.”

Exclusive and expensive with its palm tree-lined streets, ornamental street lights, completed sidewalks, and high value improvements, the mountain views of the “Movie Girl” subdivision were touted heavily in the advertisements.

The original tile on the stairway risers was made by the D & M Tile Company, founded in 1928. John ‘Jack’ Davies, a Welshman, had been apprenticed at the Doulton & Co pottery in London, England before his migration to the US in 1910. His partner, John McDonald, handled business and sales. D&M’s bright Moorish-inspired tiles were used at The Mission Inn in Riverside, Balboa Park in San Diego and on Grace Line ocean liners of the 1930s.

With the exception of the stucco, the house exhibits good integrity on the outside and is original.  The overhead entry light fixture is original.  Note the original transom window over the front door.  Looking up at the entry from outside you can see numerous original details, including the balcony, arched niches, and rafter tails.  The medallions and other decorative elements on the outside are original.

HRB Site #968- The Dr. James and Leona Parker House - 1923

The Dr. James and Leona Parker House was built in 1923 by the Great Western Building Company.  The Parker House is an excellent and rare example of the fusion of Craftsman architecture with California Mission Revival and is a home that marks a key transition period in the development of the Kensington neighborhood.

Key to interpreting this house as a representation of Craftsman style are interior features such as the exceptional gumwood built-in buffet, secretary, library and fireplace surround that would be expected in a Craftsman, but are entirely lacking in most Kensington Spanish Eclectic-style homes. Other remarkable craftsman elements are the amber mica sconces and ceiling lighting fixtures in many of the rooms dating to the period of the home as well as the trellised pergola / porte-cochere.

In addition to the coved ceiling, quarter-sawn oak floors, built-in gumwood cabinets and brick fireplace – all original - the sconces on the fireplace are original, as is the chandelier.  The window glazing is original, and, wait for it… the push button light switches are original.

The Changing Face of Adams Avenue


As part of our centennial celebratory tour of historic Kensington, historian Ron V. May, RPA and founder of Legacy 106 delivered a talk on the development of the Adams Avenue business district of Kensington. Ron’s talk, titled The Changing Face of Adams Avenue, covered the different architectural styles found along the street, from Spanish Colonial Revival to Streamline Moderne.


Kensington has a small business district consisting of five blocks on Adams Avenue. Today’s commercial district in Kensington is primarily composed of repurposed original houses, some from the 1910 era of the Kensington Park subdivision, commercial buildings from the late 1920s and early 1930s, and a number of one and two-story neighborhood shops built in the 1950’s.


But from the opening of the first subdivision of Kensington Park in 1910, until 1926, there were no businesses or commercial buildings in Kensington.

This 1910 Craftsman house on the south-east corner of Marlborough Drive and Adams Avenue is almost unrecognizable today.  Around 1951, the building that currently houses the Kensington Cafe was constructed around the north end of the house, and the second story was extended. 

When the Kensington Park subdivision was opened for the sale of lots in November of 1910, a wooden trestle bridge was already constructed along Adams Avenue to cross over Ward Canyon (now SR-15) into Kensington Park.  The bridge only carried electric streetcars until 1913, when a second wooden trestle bridge was built alongside the first, this one to carry automobiles.  This was the view of Kensington in 1923, looking east across the Ward Canyon bridge.

Photo copyright of the San Diego History Center and used by permission.

The streetcars in one form or another continued to run into Kensington, reversing direction at 42nd Street, until 1949.  The original tracks were paved over, and still remain beneath Adams Avenue.  This streetcar is stopped in front of the location of the current-day dry cleaners at Adams Avenue and 42nd Street.
Some lots along Adams Avenue remained vacant until after the restrictions expired in 1926, and commercial buildings were the first to occupy those sites. Characteristic of this change, in 1930, the building that now houses Ken Video at 4067 Adams Avenue was constructed when the owner of the lots, Rose E. Fisher, hired Joseph Carlson Kelley, a building contractor, to construct the building. By this time development of Kensington Manor was underway, and the design of houses in Kensington had changed to Spanish Colonial Revival. This original commercial building reflected the tastes at the time, and is a one-part commercial block building with Spanish Colonial Revival ornamentation.

The next wave of commercial building began after the end of World War II. The designs changed again to reflect the tastes of the time. The complex of buildings on Adams Avenue that houses the Ken Theatre, the Kensington Grill and The Haven pizzeria was constructed in 1947 by builder Chris Cosgrove,


The theater’s architect, S. Charles Lee, is recognized as one of the most prolific and distinguished motion picture theater designers on the West Coast. His first major cinema building was the Tower Theatre in Los Angeles, a Spanish-Romanesque-Moorish design that launched a career that would make Lee the principal designer of motion picture theaters in Los Angeles during the 1930s and 1940s. He is credited with designing over 400 theaters throughout California and Mexico. Lee’s ultimate legacy, however, is as an early proponent of Art Deco and Moderne style theaters, including the Ken Theatre. Lee’s work appears on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Hollywood Melrose Hotel and the Tower Theatre in Los Angeles.

Chris Cosgrove built his own house at 5310 Canterbury Drive in 1949. The Ken Theatre building features Cosgrove’s signature Arizona flagstone façade, which can be found on several houses that Cosgrove built along Canterbury Drive and other areas in Kensington Heights.  Charles Stalker, the foreman of Cosgrove’s crew of stonemasons, came to San Diego at the start of World War Two to build B-24 bombers at Convair. Following the war, he resumed his craft as a stonemason, and his notable works include Mission Valley landmark hotels such as the Town and Country, Kings Inn, and the Hanalei as well as the Bali Hai hotel and the Roxy, Ken, and Guild movie theaters.

Originally there was a Craftsman house built in 1912 on the southwest corner of Adams Avenue and Kensington Drive, where Rita’s Village Vino and Peevey Jewelers are now located.  The house was first moved to the rear of the lot to make way for a commercial building, and eventually the house was demolished to make way for a parking lot.  For a number of years the building housed a Tom Thumb market.

The northeast corner of Adams Avenue and Edgeware Road has undergone several transformations. Cora and James Kearney owned the property along Adams Avenue from Edgeware Road to County Road (now 42nd Street) and built a house here. The house was eventually moved from the lot and Lillian and Harold “Doc” Hilbert bought the property in the early 1930s. The Hilberts built and operated a miniature golf course on the property until 1938, at which time they built a drugstore and beauty shop on the corner. The design reflects the move toward the streamline moderne aesthetic. At one time it was Nau’s Pharmacy, and currently houses the Autism Institute. The adjacent commercial space and apartments were built in 1941.

Behind San Diego is a romance of love, chivalry and struggling pioneers. - Davis Baker Company advertisement, San Diego Union, 21 February 1926

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