Kerouac House has a new owner who will preserve its history

Associated Press member exchange story from the St. Petersburg Times

Jack Kerouac lived in this house in St. Petersburg for the last four years of his life.
Jack Kerouac lived in this house in St. Petersburg for the last four years of his life. (Facebook)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – For the first time ever, the house at 5169 10th Ave N. in St. Petersburg has a long-term owner who is not Jack Kerouac or a member of the beatnik author’s family.

But the new owner’s plan for the house where Kerouac lived from 1965 until he died in 1969 is still undecided — other than to preserve and make it accessible to the public.

William and Gina Burchenal purchased the 1,760-square-foot home on a whim. The Pinellas County Clerk of Court’s website reports they paid $360,000.

The Largo couple read in the Tampa Bay Times that the three-bedroom, three-bathroom home was for sale and that there was an open house on Oct. 17.

“We thought we’d go look at it, but just as an excuse to go to St. Pete so we could grab some good seafood,” William Burchenal, 60, said. “But we loved the house. The next day, we made an offer and it was accepted. We then looked at each other and thought, ‘Oh, now what?’ We don’t yet have a vision. We just want to save it for posterity and in perpetuity.”

The retired Burchenal, a former University of South Florida professor who later headed the University of Texas’ Humanities Department, has followed the home’s story over the years.

A local nonprofit wanted to purchase it from the Kerouac Estate but could not come up with the funding.

“They had good ideas on how to use the house so the community could celebrate Jack Kerouac,” Burchenal said. “We will explore those options.”

Those include turning it into a writer’s retreat or renting it for literary events. It will not become a museum.

“I don’t think that works for the neighborhood,” Burchenal said.

Over the years, Kerouac fans have broken into the house to celebrate the author. They’ve had parties and held séances.

“We can’t have that going on anymore,” Burchenal said. So, a caretaker will soon move in.

Fans have also mailed or hand-delivered letters to the house.

“Maybe we will install a giant metal mailbox out on the front lawn so people can put their messages in,” Burchenal said.

He and his wife are also interested in having the house designated a local or national historic landmark.

Such designation might require that the structure’s exterior looks how it did when Kerouac resided there.

John H. Shen-Sampas, who oversees parts of the Kerouac Estate that once included the St. Petersburg home, said that it was remodeled by the widow after the On The Road author died.

Shen-Sampas also said he has yet to see what, if any, changes were made by the previous owner, who bought it to flip.

The previous owner, Flip Side, has said they restored the house without altering its look.

Still, Shen-Sampas said, “Without the approval of the estate, no one could say this is the original house in which Jack lived.”

Photo of Jack Kerouac circa 1956
Photo of Jack Kerouac circa 1956 (Tom Palumbo via Wikimedia Commons)

Kerouac moved to St. Petersburg in 1964 with his third wife, Stella, and his mother.

They originally rented a place near the home and befriended the man who built most of the residences in the neighborhood. The builder meant to live in house at 5169 10th Ave. N. but got divorced and sold it to Kerouac.

Kerouac was 47 when he died from liver cirrhosis on Oct. 21, 1969, at St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. His mother died in 1973 and his wife in 1990.

Kerouac’s brother-in-law John Sampas then became the home’s owner and used it sparingly for vacation. He stopped visiting when age made regular travel difficult. He died in 2017 and passed the home on to his son, Shen-Sampas, who sold it to Flip Side for $220,000 in June.

Flip Side previously told the Times that they had to rid the home of a rodent infestation and fix collapsing ceilings.

“It is in great condition now,” Burchenal said. “It’s a good house, but we would not have bought it if it was not Jack Kerouac’s house. So now it is our motivation to preserve it and find a way for the community to celebrate it.”