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Jack Kerouac’s St. Petersburg home granted local historic landmark status

The owners hope that this designation preserves the property for years to come.
The home where author Jack Kerouac spent the last years of his life is located at 5169 10th Ave. N.
The home where author Jack Kerouac spent the last years of his life is located at 5169 10th Ave. N.
Published Jun. 10|Updated Jun. 10

ST. PETERSBURG — The home where Beat writer Jack Kerouac spent the last years of his life is now a historic landmark.

City Council members accepted the recommendation of the Community Planning and Preservation Commission to grant local landmark status to the “On the Road” author’s former home, located at 5169 10th Ave. N.

Current owners William and Gina Burchenal purchased the 1,760-square-foot house for $360,000 in 2020. William Burchenal and Emanuel Leto, executive director of nonprofit Preserve the ‘Burg, applied for the designation in November.

Related: St. Pete’s Kerouac House has a new owner who will preserve its history

The landmark designation will protect the property from “unnecessary demolition or unsympathetic alterations by private owners,” according to the city’s website. Historic preservation staff must review any proposed changes.

“That’s going to make it, going forward, very unattractive to any developer,” Burchenal said.

The property is leased to the nonprofit Jack Kerouac House of St. Petersburg Inc., according to Burchenal, who is on the group’s board of directors.

The organization hopes to collect enough money to buy the home and preserve it for decades. It is exploring options to make the house accessible to the public.

Kerouac fans might soon be able to visit for a tour, while community book clubs and local artists could hold events in the house. The property also could serve as a filming location, Burchenal said.

The group plans to reach out to talent agencies who have performers coming to St. Petersburg.

“Instead of staying at a Holiday Inn, they could stay at the Kerouac house,” said Pat Barmore, another board member of the nonprofit.

Burchenal said the group also has been discussing affiliation with the Kerouac estate.

Kerouac moved to St. Petersburg in 1964 with his mother and his third wife, Stella. He died at 47 from liver cirrhosis at St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg in 1969.

The house has passed through multiple hands since then.

John Sampas, brother of Stella Kerouac, was deeded the home in 1990 after her death. In 2013, a local nonprofit stepped in as the home’s caretakers. For two years, members worked to restore the house and pursued historic landmark designation.

Then Sampas took away their keys but offered to sell the home to the nonprofit for $500,000. While negotiations between Sampas and the group stalled, the place fell into disrepair as Kerouac fans broke in to hold parties and seances.

In 2017, Sampas died and passed the home to his son, John Shen-Sampas, who offered it to the local nonprofit for $300,000. The group, which hoped to turn it into a writer’s retreat, failed to raise the funds by his deadline.

Shen-Sampas instead sold the house in 2020 for $220,000 to Flip Side, a company that specializes in flipping homes. The new owner restored the house, and the Burchenals purchased it.

Related: Jack Kerouac’s St. Petersburg home has been sold

Council member Gina Driscoll said that when she first heard the house had been sold, she was worried.

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“You can imagine my joy when I heard that the folks who had purchased it appreciated and respected that they were now owners of a piece of St. Petersburg’s history, and that they chose to celebrate that, designate that and join with so many of us who are proud to say that St. Petersburg was the final home of the great Jack Kerouac,” she said, choking up.

Barmore, who ran the nonprofit that cared for the house from 2013 to 2015, said it has stayed “virtually the same as in 1969.” Burchenal intends to pursue national historic landmark designation for the house next.

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