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Jack Kerouac’s former home in St. Pete to be sold

ST. PETERSBURG — Jack Kerouac got off the road in St. Petersburg.

The author who became the voice of the Beatnik generation with the book “On The Road,” chronicling his trips across the United States and into Mexico, settled in St. Petersburg in 1964 and in 1966, he bought a small house in the Disston Heights area near St. Petersburg High School.

Kerouac died in 1969 but his fame has endured. The home at 5169 10th Ave. N. remains a popular attraction. Tour buses park out front and sightseers try to peer through the curtains inside.

One day, if a group of Kerouac fans have their way, tourists may be able to step right inside and celebrate Kerouac in a museum there.

That’s not in the cards now. Soon, said the late-author’s brother-in-law and estate executor John Sampas, the house will go up for sale. He wouldn’t say when or for how much.

A local nonprofit hopes to put an offer on the house but Sampas won’t make museum status a condition of the sale.

“It would be nice but it doesn’t have to,” said Sampas, 82, who still lives in Lowell, Massachusetts, where Kerouac was born and raised. “It’s just for sale to anyone.”

Until about six months ago, when Sampas hired a property manager, the St. Petersburg nonprofit Friends of the Jack Kerouac House cared for the house, paying for upkeep through fundraisers with Kerouac themes.

Now, the organization is redirecting its efforts toward buying it and turning it into a museum.

The next event is a concert 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday at one of Kerouac’s favorite hangouts — The Flamingo Sports Bar, 1230 9th St. N., Saint Petersburg.

Musicians will include Ronny Elliott, Eric Andersen and Rebekah Pulley and the event commemorates Kerouac’s birthday March 12, 1922.

Donations of any amount will be accepted.

Pelican Homes Realty, managers and real estate agents for the Kerouac home, was unaware of the sale plans.

There is no for sale sign on the property.

Sampas has been known to alter his plans, said Pat Barmore, president of Friends of the Jack Kerouac House.

“Mr. Sampas seems to waver,” Barmore said. “He has told me before he wants to sell the house to us and then we would move forward and then he would change his mind.”

But the Friends of the Jack Kerouac House said they need to proceed as though it goes on sale any day.

“We’re really stepping up our efforts,” said Margaret Murray, secretary of the Friends of the group. “Time matters.”

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Because the home is not designated a historic landmark, it can be remodeled to the point it no longer resembles the home where Kerouac once lived — or even demolished for a new home.

“Someone could also keep it as is and live there,” Murray said. “There is nothing wrong with that, but I think it should be a place where Jack Kerouac’s fans can visit and that honor his time spent here.”

Disston Heights Civic Association considered the idea of a museum in the quiet neighborhood during a regular meeting Thursday night.

“There was no opposition at all,” said president Jim Housley. “We think it is a great idea, although we cannot give blanket approval until we learn more about specifics.”

Murray said Friends of the Jack Kerouac House will need to raise at least $500,000 to cover the costs of purchasing the home and converting it into a museum.

Sampas offered to sell the house to the organization a few years ago for $250,000, said Peter Gallagher, vice president of the organization.

Zillow.com, a real estate website, lists the value of the single-story 1,750-square-foot as $177,766. The house has three bedrooms and three baths with a two-car garage on a 9,470 square-foot-lot

The real estate website Trulia.com says the average price for homes in the neighborhood is $147,797.

“I guess the question is how much the Kerouac name adds to its worth,” Gallagher said.

Sampas doesn’t see any value in the connection to his brother-in-law.

“Jack lived in over 20 different places throughout his life,” Sampas said. “So does that mean over 20 places can be called his home? He only lived there for a few years.”

Kristy Anderson, a filmmaker producing a documentary on Kerouac’s life in Florida, disagrees. Because it’s where the author lived in his final years, it marks an important chapter in his life, Anderson said.

Still, she said, she understands why Kerouac’s family may not see any sentimental value there. He was no longer the darkly handsome poet and novelist.

“I am not sure the family wants to remember that Jack Kerouac — the overweight man with the bulging hernia belly sitting in his Barcalounger,” she said. “And that has been an issue for me, as well, while making this film. Most of people’s memories of Kerouac are the same — drinking with him at a bar.”

Said Sampas, “He was a very sick man.”

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Kerouac moved to St. Petersburg in 1964 with this third wife Stella and mother Gabriel. It was Gabriel’s idea — seeking the warm weather for her diminishing health.

They originally rented a place in the same neighborhood and befriended a man who built most of the homes there. The builder meant to live in the house on 10th Avenue North but divorced and sold it to Kerouac.

By some accounts, Kerouac never did take to his adopted home, calling it in his letters “a good place to come die” and “the town of the newly wed and the living dead.”

“I have also read letters in which he said he loved St. Petersburg,” said Murray, with Friends of the Jack Kerouac House. “I guess it depended on what kind of mood he was in.”

In October 2013, Kerouac’s longtime friend and acclaimed musician David Amram told the Tribune that as young men hanging out in New York City, the two often spoke of one day marrying “nice girls” and settling down in a small town.

Amram said Kerouac’s move to St. Petersburg with his third wife — a childhood sweetheart from Lowell — seemed the fulfillment of that dream.

Documentary filmmaker Anderson said Kerouac was treated kindly by residents.

When he visited iconic Haslam’s Bookstore, the owners allowed him to move his books for more prominent display and store regulars would cordially discuss literature with him for hours.

If he was stumbling drunk and looking for trouble, patrons at his favorite watering holes would calm things down and bartenders would make sure he got home safely.

Kerouac drank at the Flamingo the night of Oct. 20, 1969.

He complained of stomach problems when he got home and was taken to St. Anthony’s Hospital. He died there of internal hemorrhaging from cirrhosis of the liver. He was 47.

Kerouac left his entire estate to his mother, rather than a daughter from his second marriage or his widow.

When his mother died five years later, she passed it on to his widow.

When she died in 1990 she left it to her brothers, who had known Kerouac since they were kids in Lowell.

Her youngest brother, Sampas, was named executor.

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Sampas said he used the St. Petersburg home from time to time but quit visiting from Lowell a few years ago as his age made travel difficult.

Around this time, one of the home’s neighbors contacted Sampas about a broken window, said Gallagher with the Friends of the Jack Kerouac House.

Because Sampas was in Lowell, he called the Flamingo Bar, where Gallagher and Barmore were known to throw their Kerouac-themed events.

The two men fixed the window, formed the Friends of the Jack Kerouac House and began using their events as fundraisers to maintain the house.

They raised enough to repair the roof, chase off the rats living there, install outside motion-detector lighting and maintain the landscaping.

“We had the key in an informal agreement to take care of the house,” Gallagher said.

The interior, including Kerouac’s desk and Barcalounger, had remained largely unchanged since he died so the organization planned to turn the place into a time capsule and museum of the author’s life.

Sampas was on board with that idea, Gallagher said.

But they couldn’t get the support they needed and progress stalled.

Richard McDaniel with the Disston Heights Civic Association tried to rally the neighbors toward the cause but there was little interest.

Then, last year, Sampas donated all the items remaining in the house to two other repositories of Kerouac memorabilia — the Jack and Stella Kerouac Center for the Public Humanities at the University of Massachusetts and the Kerouac Project in Orlando.

The Orlando group developed a haven for up-and-coming writers at the cottage where Kerouac lived from 1957-1958, when “On The Road” was published and where he typed his book “Dharma Bums.”

“Just one day, a moving van showed up and took everything away,” Gallagher said.

Pelican Homes Realty took over management and the locks were changed.

“I was ready to say forget about it,” Barmore said. “I was angry, but when I calmed down I decided to keep on trying to buy it.”

Filmmaker Anderson is among those who are relieved that efforts by the Friends of the Jack Kerouac House are moving forward.

“Jack Kerouac is one of this country’s great writers and he was a part of Florida’s history,” Anderson said. “It would be nice if the house was used to remind people of that.”

pguzzo@tampatrib.com

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