1. Life & Culture

Fate of iconic author Jack Kerouac's St. Petersburg house in limbo with death of executor

The house at 5169 10th Ave. N, St. Petersburg, was Jack Kerouac's home in his final years.
The house at 5169 10th Ave. N, St. Petersburg, was Jack Kerouac's home in his final years.
Published Mar. 26, 2017

St. Petersburg represents one small slice in the expansive life of Jack Kerouac, the cultural icon who helped launch the Beat Generation with his volumes of literary work and treks across the United States.

Still, it's "our piece of the pie and important to us," said Margaret Murray, secretary of a local nonprofit dedicated to preserving the history of the years spent by the On The Road writer in the Tampa Bay area.

Now, the most conspicuous remnant of the late author's time in the region — the house at 5169 10th Ave. N where he lived his final years — may be in danger.

Kerouac's brother-in-law, John Sampas, executor of his estate and owner of the St. Petersburg home, recently agreed to fix it up, according to Murray and others. The home is in disrepair due to neglect, they say.

But Sampas, 84, died March 9 at his home in Greenwich, Conn., before he could make good on that promise.

Murray and fellow members of Friends of the Jack Kerouac House are worried about what this means for the home's future.

The Kerouac estate is extensive, with the literature at the center of it, so the St. Petersburg home might not rate as a priority for the new owner — just as it never was for Sampas, they said.

"It looks like an old crack house," said Peter Gallagher, vice president of the nonprofit group.

The lawn is overgrown and the mailbox where fans continued to leave Kerouac posthumous letters was recently stolen.

Gallagher said he drove by the house a week ago and noticed the gate was jimmied open and a sliding glass door was opened to the back porch.

"It could be vandalism," he said. "It could be a vagrant living there."

Sampas is survived by his son, John Shen Sampas of Greenwich, and twin sister, Helen Surprenant of Dracut, Mass., plus nieces and nephews.

It was unclear who takes possession of the house now. Sampas' attorney, George Tobia, could not be reached for comment.

Pat Barmore, president of the Friends of the Jack Kerouac House, said Sampas promised in early March to assess what needed to be done to stabilize the house. Just days later, Barmore said, Sampas died.

"In January, he bought his twin sister's half of the house for $55,000," Barmore said. "So, I don't know what happens to it now."

Friends of the Jack Kerouac House have been trying to buy the building for the past few years. They want to turn it into a museum honoring the literary giant, but Sampas wavered on whether he was willing to sell it.

"We're hoping his family will not want to mess with it," Barmore said.

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 a man who built most of the residences in the neighborhood. The builder meant to live in the three-bedroom, one-story, 1,760-square-foot house 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.

Sampas, brother of Stella Kerouac, used the St. Petersburg home from time to time but stopped visiting when age made regular travel difficult.

At their request, Gallagher and Barmore were named the home's caretakers by Sampas in 2013 when it first was in need of maintenance due to neglect. The two formed the nonprofit to pay for roof and window repairs, a security system and a regular maid and landscaper.

But a year later, Sampas gave all the items in the home to repositories of Kerouac memorabilia.

A year later, he cut off access to the nonprofit and offered to sell them the building for a half-million dollars — double its market value. Soon afterward, he took it off the market.

"We don't want anything personally out of this," Gallagher said. "We just want to preserve history."

Contact Paul Guzzo at Follow @PGuzzoTimes.