History’s got style in San Diego

Special to The Times

The street names may sound like Olde England -- Marlborough, Canterbury -- but this San Diego neighborhood is more old California with an abundance of classic Spanish-style architecture. Its quiet, winding streets, beautiful homes and canyon views set Kensington apart from the surrounding city.


The Kensington area was first developed in 1910, but it wasn’t until the mid-1920s that the neighborhood’s signature style emerged.

Developer George Forbes enlisted the Davis-Baker Co. of Pasadena to create and market the Kensington Heights subdivision on a mesa overlooking Mission Valley.

They hired San Diego architect Richard S. Requa, who frequently traveled to Spain to photograph buildings and study their construction. His designs reflected that country’s influences. The look took off and made a lasting mark on the community.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, most Kensington homes were built in Spanish Revival style: red tile roofs, terra-cotta tiling, arched doorways, white stucco and wrought-iron work.


Building slowed during the Depression, and by 1950, Kensington was considered one of San Diego’s premier residential areas.

What it’s about

Kensington is a quiet enclave bisected by Adams Avenue. The homes on the southern side of Adams are generally smaller, and many streets link directly to the rest of the city. The northern side, a larger area surrounded by canyons, is considered more exclusive and desirable. Homes and yards are bigger and many houses are on cul-de-sacs or looping, quiet streets, some overlooking canyons.

“It feels like we live in a small town in the middle of a very large city,” said Celia Conover, who has lived on the northern side for 15 years.

Conover lauds Kensington’s distinctive style: “The architecture and character are a big part of what makes our neighborhood so special.”

The Adams Avenue commercial strip packs a lot into a few short blocks. It’s a mecca for cinephiles: Kensington Video is a real blockbuster; the cultural icon is considered the best video store in San Diego and draws customers from the entire county, as does Ken Cinema, a funky art-house theater next door.

There also are a few eclectic eateries and coffeehouses as well as a small park and library.

Insider’s view

Nine-year resident Jenny Belk and her family live on what she calls “one of Kensington’s prettiest streets.”

She finds the area close-knit. “We love our neighbors. We have friends all around, from the toddler across the street to the 80-year-old lady in the house behind us.”

Good news, bad news

Many residents are upset that Kensington Terrace, a mixed-use development of shops, offices, apartments and underground parking to be built in the heart of the neighborhood on Adams Avenue, recently received the go-ahead by the San Diego City Council.

Opponents say there was little input from the community; supporters argue it will enhance the neighborhood.

Housing stock

Kensington’s historic look is a point of pride for residents. Remodeling and additions often include Mediterranean features that complement the original designs.

In the middle of March, a three-bedroom, one-bathroom, 981-square-foot Spanish-style house south of Adams was listed for $629,000.

North of Adams, a two-story, four-bedroom, three-bathroom, 2,321-square-foot classic Spanish on a quiet street was listed at $1.3 million.

Report card

Most grade school students in Kensington attend Franklin Elementary, which scored 773 out of a possible 1,000 on the 2007 Academic Performance Index Growth Report. Central Elementary scored 710; Wilson Middle School, 634; and Hoover High School, 562.