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Historic Designation for Jack Kerouac’s St. Petersburg Home

Beat pioneer Jack Kerouac lived in the Disston Heights home less than 2 years before he died. Located at 5169 10th Avenue North, St. Petersburg, Florida, the home passed down via Probate to Kerouac’s third wife Stella’s brother’s son, John Sampas, Jr. It was quite the journey! William Kennedy (Ken) and Gina Burchenal purchased the 1750’ home for $360,000 in 2020. They prepared the application for historic designation, which was approved this month.

American literary writer Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac (simply called Jack) was an enigmatic traveler whose estate was valued at $91 when he died at the age of 47 from cirrhosis of the liver. His paralyzed mother, Gabrielle, remained in the home, along with Stella. When Gabrielle died, she left her estate to Stella, who died in 1990. Stella’s brother Sebastian was a lifelong friend of Jack’s. Her other brother John inherited her estate. Since then, Kerouac’s estate has only grown—upwards of $10 million dollars.

The Kerouacs initially resided in the home next door, 5155 10th Avenue N but bought the #5169 home, situated on a corner lot, in 1968. It’s a modest home. However, the architectural features were enough for the St. Pete City Council to vote 6-0 (with 2 members absent) to approve the application.

Although Jack and Stella did not have any children, Jack did have a daughter, Janet Michelle “Jan” Kerouac (1952-1996), for whom he had only seen twice. In fact, it wasn’t until Jan was 10 years old that Jack learned and tested as her biological father. This did not stop Jan from contesting Gabrielle’s will in an attempt to collect on the fortune. Her attempts failed when she also died at a young age.

The Burchenals do not reside at the home. It has been preserved and is open for special events by the operating non-profit 5169 10th Ave, LLC. Another non-profit, The Friends of Jack Kerouac, previously hosted events to help support the home. They no longer support the home, but they do sponsor an annual Tour de Kerouac bike tour, along with the self-walking and self-driving tours. The tours include Haslam’s Bookstore, a favorite haunt of Jack’s.

Haslam’s has been an institution in St. Pete.

Local legend is that Jack does in fact haunt the bookstore. Unfortunately, Haslam’s closed shortly into the pandemic and has not reopened—nor is it likely to.

One aspect of Jack’s life falls to the sideline. He was arrested as a material witness in a murder case. On August 13, 1944, Jack and fellow Beat Generation member Lucian Carr attempted to sail to France. They were kicked off the ship prior to its departure. They proceeded to spend the evening drinking, with Jack heading home before Carr. On his way, Jack met up with David Kammerer, an older man who had a complicated relationship with Carr. There is much speculation about the nature of the relationship, but what remains clear is that Kammerer followed Carr across the nation in a stalking manner. On that night, Carr and Kammerer ending up walking to Riverside Park in Manhattan. Something happened (Carr testified that Kammerer attempted to sexually assault him), and Carr stabbed Kammerer with his Boy Scout knife. Carr disposed of the bound body in the Hudson River. He ran to his Beat friends for help, and Jack obliged. After Carr confessed, both were arrested. Jack’s family refused to post bond. He spent 2 days in jail until his then girlfriend Edie Parker’s family posted bond on condition that they marry. The marriage was annulled a few years later. Carr spent 2 years in jail before being released. Kerouac turned the tragedy into two fictional stories. In total, Jack penned 15 novels and 4 short stories/novellas, with On the Road (1957) as his most famous.

If in St. Pete, take the Jack Kerouac driving tour. Even though Haslam’s is closed, park and walk around. It is a reminder that bookstores, and reading, are still popular. Who knows? Maybe Jack’s ghost will pull at the paper coverings on the extra-large windows. Let me know if he does.