The planned Kerouac museum is not happening soon

Published April 30 2018
Updated April 30 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — A plan to convert the home where beatnik writer Jack Kerouac spent his final years into a place honoring the author of On The Road was expected to be well along by now.

It’s been a year since John Shen-Sampas inherited the house at 5169 10th Ave. N in St. Petersburg and declared his intention to sell it to someone willing to turn it into a museum or writer’s retreat. There was even a local non-profit offering to lead the effort.

BACKSTORY: New executor says Kerouac home will be sold and turned into museum

But today the home remains silent and off the market. And the non-profit has become persona non grata.

"I’m in no hurry," said Shen-Sampas, 34, a resident of Greenwich, Conn. who helps run the Kerouac estate, including its artifacts and literary rights.

"I just want to do what is best for the house so I don’t want to rush,’’ he said. "I have people interested in preserving the house, people from different parts of the world ... big Kerouac fans who have already done deals with us before."

But he is no longer negotiating with the "St. Petersburg group."

Called the Friends of the Jack Kerouac House, the non-profit once acted as the home’s caretaker, paying for upkeep through fund-raisers.

Then in late 2014, without notice, Shen-Sampas’ father hired a property manager, removed Kerouac’s belongings — including his desk — and locked the non-profit out.

There seemed to be an opening last year when Shen-Sampas inherited the home and met with the board to discuss selling it to them.

But Shen-Sampas said the non-profit didn’t have the money, so he said he offered to lease it to them and later sell it when they had the funds.

"They agreed and then backed out," he said. "I was very much turned off. They wanted me to give them the house for free."

Pat Barmore, president of the nonprofit group, remembers it differently.

"He thinks we will take care of the house for him, fix it up and get nothing in return," he said. As for the asking price, "He never even gave us a number."

The Pinellas County Property Appraiser lists the market value of the 3-bedroom, 1,760-square-foot home at $158,934. Zillow’s estimate is $238,257.

"At this point I don’t know the worth," Shen-Sampas said.

But it doesn’t matter, he said. The house is no longer for sale.

The non-profit has been down this road before. In 2015, Shen-Sampas’ father also announced the house was for sale, only to later backtrack.

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

"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss," said Barmore, quoting The Who song, Won’t Get Fooled Again.

Kerouac moved to St. Petersburg in 1964 with his third wife, Stella, and his mother. He died from liver cirrhosis on Oct. 21, 1969, at St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. When his wife died in 1990, the home was deeded to her brother John Sampas, who then left it to Shen-Sampas.

RELATED: Man of letters: Fans leave notes at Kerouac’s former St. Pete home

Since then, improvements have been made to the exterior. A once-broken window was boarded up, a new back gate installed and the landscaping is no longer ignored.

Still, Friends of the Kerouac House remain concerned after being told by some who live near the home that random people have been seen walking in and out the back door. When a Tampa Bay Times reporter stopped by the home, the front door and back gate were locked.

The non-profit is considering asking the City of St. Petersburg to name it a historic landmark so it will receive extra scrutiny in terms of code compliance.

Laura Duvekot, a historic preservationist with the city, said the City Council can approve of such status for a home even without the owner’s support.

But that is not the route the non-profit prefers.

"We just want something done to move this forward," said Peter Gallagher, vice president of the group. "Tour buses stop by there all the time. People appreciate that house."

Contact Paul Guzzo at Follow @PGuzzoTimes.