San Diego’s neighborhood known as Kensington shares its main thoroughfare of Adams Avenue with nearby University Heights and Normal Heights. And for many decades now, it has had the distinction of being the most desirable mid-city urban San Diego community to reside in. Prices do reflect the desirability. The appeal is not lost to many who visit, for this community exudes a welcoming, homely vibe. Other advantages to this historic region – “historic” for being one of the oldest residential neighborhoods in the mid-city region of San Diego – are its minimal traffic congestion, friendly close-knit neighborhood, and numerous homes with bona fide historical designations (see photos of Kensington homes with official historical designations at this link here). Read on further to learn more about this much sought-after San Diego residential area.
It is a highly walkable neighborhood. According to Walk Score’s website, “People in Kensington can walk to an average of 3 restaurants, bars and coffee shops in 5 minutes.” In fact, this neighborhood is so highly walkable — and safe! — as a community, that it has even been ranked in the Top 10 best places in San Diego for young kids to go trick-or-treating each Halloween, as covered by national online publication, Red Tricycle. Moreover, it’s not unheard of to see many pets ambling with their humans along Kensington’s sidewalks, for it’s a very pet-friendly place as well.
Kensington is an architecture aficionado’s dream. When the community was first established, in 1910, Craftsman homes dominated. Then in the 1920s to 1930s, a new architectural trend began exploding here. Indeed, while this upscale enclave features many Spanish-tiled cottage style single family homes, what makes this community stand apart from other well-known San Diego neighborhoods is that Richard Requa, one of the leading lights of early 20th century architecture, brought his distinctive Mediterranean-inspired California style to bear in Kensington. Of course, the 1930s also introduced to the neighborhood’s skyline the architect Cliff May’s influence. Cliff May is renowned as the originator of the California ranch style house, which preserves elements of the Spanish Colonial Revival hacienda ranch house tradition, evident in a number of historically designated Kensington homes. By the 1940s, there was a shift away from Spanish Eclectic design themes; instead, pre-war 1940s Old English Manor style architecture began to permeate Kensington’s residential area, thanks to the Dennstedt architectural family. A.L Dennstedt and A.E. Dennstedt are credited for building many homes, apartments, and commercial buildings throughout San Diego and contributing extensively to the architectural legacy of San Diego. One particular Kensington home, known as the A.L. and Cleveland Dennstedt house, was the personal residence of the builder, and it reflects the change in architectural tastes of both the neighborhood and the wider San Diego region as the 1940s arrived. Of course, there are also other types of homes in the style of French Eclectic, Italian Renaissance Revival, Romanesque-Moorish, Art Deco, and Streamline Moderne architectural themes that can also be found in the community. One has to see the richness in architectural themes found throughout this well-to-do neighborhood, which had long been touted by its developers as an exclusive community of “high resale value homes to bequeath savvy buyers’ children a negotiable asset instead of a white elephant.” In other words, people stay in Kensington for many generations, and they take exquisite care of their homes, which is reflected in the high market value of the neighborhood.
For many years, Kensington was home to one of the physicians who attempted to save the life of assassinated President William McKinley. Dr. E. C. Mann — along with his surgeon father, Dr. M. D. Mann — were attending the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo NY when President McKinley was assassinated. The younger Mann administered morphine while the elder performed the surgery to remove the bullets from President McKinley. President McKinley survived the operation but passed away on the ninth post-operative day. Both Mann doctors were recipients of Congressional awards for their heroic efforts to save President McKinley’s life. The neighborhood’s 1929 E. C. Mann House was where the younger Dr. Mann lived for many years; the residence remains with his descendants. Meanwhile, for a first-hand account by another physician attending the incident, read “Wounds Described,” the brief article detailing President McKinley’s assassination at this link here.
You can visit the oldest still-standing house in Kensington. The neighborhood was founded in April 1910, and lot sales began in November 1910. Understandably, its residential community is very strong in obtaining historical designations for many of its homes. The oldest house in the area with historical designation is recognized as the St. John Residence at 4720 Kensington Drive. It is a 1910 Craftsman residence that is now home to the Fraternal Spiritualist Church, which holds service at least twice a week. Folks are welcome to visit to see this historical building.
Kensington has also been home to several aviation historical figures. Not too far from the neighborhood, across the San Diego Bay, is the island of Coronado – that’s the birthplace of naval aviation, at Naval Air Station North Island (NASNI). When many naval aviators retire and search for a home, they choose places like Coronado, La Jolla, and Kensington to retire to. One of the many aviation historical greats recognized as having resided in Kensington, for instance, was Captain Charles R. Bowman. He flew into history along with four other pilots back in July 1st, 1930 when they inaugurated the first overnight United States Mail and passenger flight service between San Diego and Seattle, Washington on a B-40 Boeing biplane. Captain Bowman likewise has the honor of having completed the first transcontinental flight from San Francisco to Boston; that took place in 1925. In 1935, Captain Bowman lived in the Kensington residence now designated as Historic Landmark No. 597, the Hensley House, which was built by architect Henry B. Hensley in 1931.