From the street it looks like every other house in the neighborhood but 90 feet beneath a home in Kensington stretches a maze of tunnels and caves.
The tunnels are seldom accessed by the current homeowner, but pictures from local history books show how they once were filled with people playing ping pong and sipping soda cooled by a refrigerator.
“A couple parents in the neighborhood were a little afraid for their kids, but it was quite safe,” said Ray Havens, who helped dig the tunnels with his father and brothers.
Dr. Glenn Havens, a physicist who purchased the home in 1943 started digging into his backyard hillside in 1949 when he discovered the soft sand near a barbecue pit.
“I don’t know if it was a mid-life crisis trying to keep his weight off, but he’d work down here in the caves and dig,” said Havens, who remembers being paid 10 cents for every wagon-load of dirt carried out of the cave to the surface.
It took 10 years for the tunnels and caves to be fully dug out and wired with electricity. While his friends had a playhouse or tree fort, Havens and his siblings had nearly 2,000-square-feet of usable cave space deep in the ground.
Havens recently returned to his elaborate childhood playground for the first time in 30 years.
A few areas closer to the surface had signs of collapsed dirt but most of the space, including the larger, deeper rooms, showed very little sign of natural erosion.
In certain areas you have to crawl on your hands and knees, or slide down two-story drops, but in some of the larger rooms of “Havens Cave” you could fit dozens of people comfortably.
In fact, in 1960 Havens’ sister’s wedding reception was held inside the cave. The cave has also served several other purposes through the years. It was the family’s bomb shelter, which helped them deal with fears of Cold War tension.
“If there was nuclear war or whatever, this was the use of it,” said Havens.
More recently, the cave has been a time capsule for fossils.
Explorers have discovered shark teeth, whale bones, and the tusk of an extinct walrus which now sits in San Diego’s Natural History Museum.
The cave is a valued piece of Kensington History, even though most people have never seen it in person.
It’s the inspiration behind the “Haven Pizzeria” restaurant located at the neighborhood’s entrance. It’s the place where 62-year-old Ray Havens feels like an 8-year-old again.
You could say Havens is still a kid beneath the surface.