Joseph Franklin Rutherford, president of the Jehovah’s Witnesses from 1916 to 1940, planned to see Kensington engulfed in flames one day. If his predictions held true, he foresaw himself standing in the third-story watchtower of his 20-room home named Beth Sarin (House of the Princes) on Braeburn Road, surrounded by God’s resurrected faithful, surveying the violence and destruction of Armageddon as played out on the battlefield of Kensington. “Could Kensington endure the environmental impact of the traffic brought about by the thousands of sightseers for this event?” asks Dr. Thomas H. Baumann in Kensington-Talmadge 1910–1985, his 196-page history of the neighborhood, published in late January of this year.
Rutherford, unfortunately, did not live to see the blockbuster finale. He died in 1941 and is said to be buried somewhere on his property, although his neighbors protested violently when a church member, William Heath, formally applied for a permit to inter Rutherford near his home in a plot of ground on the canyon side of the home. Rutherford, however, was so convinced that the apocalypse would take place in his corner of San Diego that before his death he had his home landscaped with plants indigenous to the Holy Land so that the souls of the prophets on hand to view the show would feel more at home.
Kensington-Talmadge 1910–1985 cost Baumann roughly $7500 to research, and more than 500 copies have been sold since it has been placed in stores within the Kensington-Talmadge community. Recently Baumann was honored by the San Diego Historical Society for his book, which is one of what historical society archivist Sylvia Arden describes as a disappearing genre. “It used to be that publishing a book was relatively inexpensive,” Arden says, “but within the past decade prices have skyrocketed, and now most local histories are limited to small pamphlets. Dr. Baumann’s book is important not only for the extensive amount of research it represents, but because it is part of a dwindling number.” Local histories of Alpine, Carlsbad, and La Mesa are among the few recent examples of the genre. The completion of Baumann’s book was particularly timely, as Kensington will be celebrating its diamond jubilee at the end of this month.
Although Baumann’s history does deal at length with the practical aspects of the establishment and growth of Kensington and its twin neighborhood Talmadge from their beginnings as real estate ventures in 1909 to the present, it does shed light on more than a few of the neighborhood’s peculiarities. Digging, it seems, has been a mania for several Kensington residents. In addition to the alleged surreptitious stashing of Rutherford’s body, others who have lived in Kensington have passed their time tunneling through the area’s canyons. The late Glen Havens became a sort of local celebrity in the ’50s and early ’60s for the more than 700 feet of tunnels he and his sons dug through the sandstone underlying his property. According to Baumann, Havens’s industrious project began one day in 1949 when he began to enlarge his pit barbecue. “Before we knew it,” one of the sons said, “Dad started to dig and he kept going. He said it made him think.… Pretty soon the whole side of the hill was covered with sand. It was a lot of good, clean fun. We tunneled right up to Carol’s bedroom closet.” Carol Havens’s wedding reception was held, incidentally, in April of 1960 in one of the rooms her father carved out of the earth beneath their home.
According to Baumann, Havens’s project was widely written about in the local press, although Havens was not the first in Kensington to dig compulsively. In 1919 a 70-year-old retired druggist named W.R. Young began to dig a tunnel into the side of a canyon northeast of where Fairmount Avenue meets Montezuma Road. Young reportedly began to dig the 250-foot tunnel for health reasons, and in a statement to the press said, “I heartily recommend this to men who are feeling the approach of old age.” To aid him in his endeavor, Young recruited boys from the neighborhood to help him, and by the summer of 1920, his unique form of exercise had achieved remarkable results. While the initial digging of the tunnel had provided untold hours of fun for the youngsters, the years that followed the tunnel’s completion also proved to be equally exciting. Through the years it became the playground for packs of runaways and a street gang named the Sons of Satan, and at least one youngster met with an untimely demise in an unfortunate cave-in.
In 1941 Young himself was killed in an auto accident near his home on East Mountain View Drive. Three years later, when new owners moved in to occupy his house, they claimed that they heard him return on a nightly basis to wander about in the attic. The mysterious footsteps persisted for more than a year, then suddenly ceased. The tunnel itself was finally sealed shut in 1970 when the Alvarado Community Association had 20 feet of concrete poured into its two entrances. From then, until the publication of Thomas Baumann’s book, nearly everyone had forgotten about the tunnel’s existence.