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Fans Hope to Preserve Jack Kerouac’s Florida Home

The modest house in St. Petersburg is now for sale, and may be turned into a museum

Jack Kerouac's former home at 5169 10th Ave. N in St. Petersburg, Florida. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
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Jack Kerouac reportedly deemed St. Petersburg, Florida, “a good place to come die”—a sentiment that was half sardonic, half prescient. The On the Road author moved to the city, begrudgingly, in 1964 with his third wife Stella and mother Gabriel. The trio lived there, in a modest, three-bedroom suburban home, until Kerouac died in 1969.

For years, Kerouac’s estate has been controlled by Kerouac's brother-in-law John Sampas, who died in March. Now, the house is on the market, reports Paul Guzzo of the Tampa Bay Times, and its new executor plans to sell the property to investors who will transform it into a museum.

As Guzzo reports, in 2013, a local fan organization called Friends of the Jack Kerouac House volunteered to maintain the St. Petersburg property and, according to The Lowell Sun, made several attempts to buy the home to turn it into a museum. But in 2015, the Sampas family decided that they were not interested in selling, and blocked volunteers from accessing the property.

After Sampas’ death, the St. Petersburg house passed into the hands of his son, also named John Sampas. The younger Sampas has resumed talks with the Friends of the Jack Kerouac House, and has voiced his support for turning the home into a museum. Various estimates have valued the property between $128,832 to more than $240,000, but Sampas told Guzzo that he is not particularly concerned with making a steep profit.

"The value of the property is its history," he said. "It is not about the highest bidder. I want to find a group or person with a good vision for the house who can execute the plan."

His words are no doubt encouraging to fans who have spent years advocating for a memorial to Kerouac’s life in St. Petersburg—though the time he spent there was not particularly happy. Kerouac relocated to Florida with his family because his mother, who was paralyzed, wanted to escape the cold of their Massachusetts hometown, according to William R. Levesque of the St. Petersburg Times. Kerouac was less than thrilled about the move. In addition to quipping that the city was a good place to kick the bucket, the author is said to have described St. Petersburg as “the town of the newly wed and the living dead.”

By the time Kerouac came to St. Petersburg, his life had fallen into disarray. On the Road, published in 1957, had established him as a defining voice of the Beat Generation (he invented the name) and transformed him into a literary sensation. But Kerouac had trouble coping with the fame. He drank heavily, Mick Brown writes in The Telegraph, and his reputation within the literary world began to suffer. By 1969, he was out of money. He was also gravely ill.

On October 20, 1969, Kerouac’s wife found him on his knees in the bathroom of their St. Petersburg home, vomiting blood. He died the next day, at the age of 47, from an abdominal hemorrhage caused by decades of alcoholism.

Despite the rather grim end to Kerouac’s life, his final years in Florida were not entirely bleak. Guzzo of the Tampa Bay Times writes that the author was known to visit Haslam’s Bookstore and Beaux Arts coffee shop in St. Petersburg. His byline appeared on three pieces for the sport section of the Evening Independent, a now-defunct local newspaper. He liked the rustling of the pine tree in his front yard, according to Levesque of the St. Petersburg Times.

That yard is currently a bit mangy. Kerouac’s St. Petersburg home has not been well maintained over the years, Guzzo notes. The lawn is overgrown, the mailbox appears to have been swiped and the backyard gate is broken. It isn’t clear what the inside of the house looks like. But a new beginning for the house—and a new tribute to Kerouac’s legacy—may be on the horizon. 

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a journalist based in New York City. Her work has appeared in New York magazine, Flavorwire, and Women in the World, a property of The New York Times.

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