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St. Petersburg’s Kerouac House is designated as an historic site

Single-story home with brick exterior and faux lap siding. It has trees to the left and right of it, as well as behind it. A number of bushes are in front of it.
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A St. Petersburg house once owned by writer Jack Kerouac has been approved as a historic site by the city council.

Beat writer Jack Kerouac lived in the house with his mother and his third wife, Stella, from 1965 until his death in 1969.

“A peaceful sorrow at home is the best I’ll ever be able to offer the world, in the end,” Jack Kerouac wrote in his 1965 novel Desolation Angels.

Now, six decades after his death, the famed beat writer’s final residence has been preserved as a local landmark.

The St. Petersburg City Council voted Thursday to designate the Kerouac House at 5169 10th Ave N. in Disston Heights as a historic site. The city unanimously passed the preservation measure in a 6-0 vote with council members Copley Gerdes and Ed Montanari absent.

Laura Duvekot, historic preservationist for St. Petersburg, listed the minimalist design and brick veneer as some of the building’s defining features.

“Florida was not only a final place for (Kerouac) to live, but also a sort of refuge for creativity and productivity,” she said.

Kerouac lived in the house with his mother and his third wife, Stella, from 1965 until his death in 1969. Stella Kerouac died in 1990, the Kerouac Estate held the home until selling it to Ken and Gina Burchenal in 2020.

Ken Burchenal, a retired professor who taught at the University of South Florida and the University of Texas, told the council the Keroaucs were not wealthy and the house lacks many renovations others like it had done in the '60s.

“In 1990 when Stella Kerouac died, the family locked the house and it was sealed like Tut’s tomb until 2020,” he said. “Nothing has really been changed, and much of their furniture was still in the house.”

Burchenal said he hopes to preserve the building as it is and make it accessible to the public for years to come. He said he is moving forward with a non-profit to manage the Kerouac House.

“I think in probably another 40-50 years it’s going to be pretty rare to have a 1960s cinderblock house with terrazzo floors that hasn’t been renovated,” he said, laughing.

City council chair Gina Driscoll choked up before the vote.

“This is a very special moment for me because I have admired this house and I absolutely love that this celebrated author spent some time in St. Pete — even though it was not for very long,” she said.

Council member Lisset Hanewicz pointed out most of St. Pete's local landmarks are located downtown. She said having one away from there means a lot to her and the city.

“Historically, having a house in that era preserved,” Hanewicz said. “It’s really remarkable.”

Jack Prator is the WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for summer of 2022.