Kensington was designed in 1924 by the noted and prolific Philadelphia naval architect, J. Murray Watts, for George S. Cox, president of the Kensington & Allegheny Trust Company in Philadelphia. She was built by Smith & Williams Company Marine Railway, a yard that continues to operate as Chesapeake Shipbuilding, in the eastern shore town of Salisbury, Maryland.
Although her design was similar to the commuter yachts that were used to transport barons of Wall Street between their homes on Long Island to their offices at the tip of Manhattan, Mr. Cox had Kensington built for racing on the Delaware river. She was originally powered with a pair of 300 horse power Detroit Marine-Aero (Fiat type) gasoline engines, and reportedly could do 35 knots.
Kensington's overall length is 57 feet 4 inches with a beam of 11 feet 4 inches and a draft of 3 feet 7 inches. She is planked with one-inch cypress below the waterline, and one-inch Honduran mahogany above the waterline. Her frames are one inch by one and one-half white oak on eight inch centers. Original fasteners were copper rivets. All of her houses are Honduran mahogany.
During 1924 and 1925 Kensington was featured prominently in advertisements for Detroit Marine engines and the Smith & Williams yard in publications such as Yachting and MotorBoating. Her plans were featured in the May, 1924 issue of The Rudder and an article on her appeared in the September 10, 1924 issue of MotorBoat magazine.
In 1927 Kensington was purchased by Bert Jilg, a Seattle Yacht Club member, and one of the owners of the Jilg meat packing operation. Shipped through the Panama Canal on a freighter, Kensington arrived in Seattle in December, 1927. According to the late Seattle boat builder Anchor Jensen, whose yard serviced Kensington for Mr. Jilg, Jilg liked his liquor, and his financial worth rose and fell along with the amount of gin in his bottle. During the Depression, Jilg would often barter with the Jensen Motor Boat Company for service, often paying his debt in meats and produce.
In 1924 Jilg had Ted Geary design and the Blanchard Boat company build for him a 60-foot express cruiser, Hermina, which he had subsequently lost, and he was probably able to pick up Kensington for ten cents on the dollar. Rumors circulated that Jilg liked to race his new yacht at such high speed in Hood Canal that her wake damaged docks, so she was refused passage through the locks! (Such informal disposition to water borne speeding infractions would not be handled in this manner 75 years later.)
In October, 1929, Kensington was hauled at the Jensen Motor-Boat Company and her original wheelhouse was removed. The reason for this remains unknown, but retired Seattle boatbuilder Norman C. Blanchard recalls that, in addition to the unattractive lines of the Watts-designed house, the construction was very heavy, which would seem strange for an otherwise fairly lightly constructed vessel that was supposedly built for racing. A 1929 bookkeeper's ledger, still in the Jensen archives, details the work, which took from October through December, 1929. For instance, on the day of the Stock Market Crash, three workers spent eight hours tearing off the old house. The late Anchor Jensen told how, in the resultant Depression, Jilg, who was in the meat packing business, paid his yard bills with groceries.The resulting new wheelhouse was of great improvement to Kensington's lines.
In 1931 Jilg sold Kensington to R.C. Frankie, owner of the Western Gear Works. Mr. Frankie immediately had the yacht hauled at the Blanchard yard and had her engines removed. This was probably done because when operated at low rpm these engines tended to overheat significantly. She was repowered with a pair of 250-hp Hall-Scott "Invader" gas engines.
In the 1930s Kensington became property of Lloyd Vance, one of the sons of Joseph Vance of the Vance Lumber Company, and was used as their corporate yacht. The Vance Lumber Company (which continues as the Vance Corporation) owned downtown Seattle properties that included the Joseph Vance Building, the Vance Hotel, the Camlin Hotel and the Lloyd Building. It was during the Vance ownership that the aft open cockpit was enclosed with the addition of the observation saloon, probably in 1938. Although the Vance Lumber Company sold Kensington in 1938, they later either repurchased her or repossessed her, and maintained her for another six years.
The Vance family sold Kensington in 1949, and she passed through a series of owners over the next few decades and was well taken care of. The sale of Kensington to a young couple in the late 1970s proved to be not in the best interests for the yacht and her condition steadily became worse. She was in this decayed state when current owner Stephen Wilen purchased her in 1982 and he set out to return Kensington to her former beauty, a process that took much longer than first anticipated.
Kensington has survived these decades because of the love and dedication of her owners. She is a piece of maritime history and because she has been saved, she proudly sails into the 21st Century, exemplifying everything that defines stewardship of a classic yacht.