Jack Kerouac, Novelist and Poet


Jack Kerouac, Novelist and Poet

Kerouac Residence (1957): 1943 Berkeley Way

In the mid 1950s, Jack Kerouac spent time at Allen Ginsberg’s cottage on Milvia Street and idealized it as a “rose-covered cottage”—a description that became the illusive, unfilled fantasy of a peaceful home to which he would bring his mother to live with him. On May 6, 1957, Kerouac and his mother boarded a Greyhound bus in Orlando. Three days later they were in California, having survived the trip on a diet of Coca Cola, aspirin, and bourbon.

Poet Philip Whalen helped them find a three-bedroom apartment. It was in a building owned by Joseph and Irene Young that was close to the Ginsberg cottage he fondly remembered.

In his first letter from Berkeley on May 15, 1957 Kerouac reported to his agent, Sterling Lord, that he had found a furnished apartment and that he and his mother intended “to stay here for good [and] are both very happy.” On May 24th he wrote poet Gary Snyder of the view “out one window red flowers, out another white.” He described the apartment as “a fine furnished pad ground floor” but confessed that he was “bored in Berkeley because our stuff, typewriters, manuscripts, clothes, ain’t a-comin so fast.” Kerouac painted, attended lectures on Buddhism, and mentioned having a dinner at the Fuji Inn, then at 2505 Telegraph.

Here in Berkeley, Kerouac received his first printed copy of On the Road. He wrote Ginsberg, who had left Berkeley in the fall of 1956, that Neal Cassady, Cassady’s first wife Luanne Henderson, and Cassady’s friend Al Hinkle “floated into my Berkeley door just as I was unpacking boxfull of ON THE ROAD from Viking, all got high reading.”

Kerouac caroused in Berkeley and North Beach, at times with his old friend Neal Cassady, at times with his new friend Hubert “Hube the Cube” Leslie, a North Beach fixture whom Kerouac brought home to meet his mother. On June 7th he wrote to Ginsberg about Hube: “I met the magnificent Hubert Leslie who is just like Du Peru (who I saw also, he still the same) and Hubert in fact is even coming to visit me at my house in Berkeley. Imagine Hube the Cube and my mother in the same room!”

His mother didn’t like Berkeley and by July 1957, Kerouac had moved her to Orlando near the home of his sister. The last letter he wrote from Berkeley was on July 5th. The plan to “stay here for good” lasted less than two months.

Contributed by Tom Dalzell, 2014

  • 1943 Berkeley Way in Kerouac's time, photo BAHA Archives

  • 1943 Berkeley Way (2014), photo Tom Dalzell

Photo credit abbreviations:
BAHA: Berkeley Architectural Heritage Assn.
BHS: Berkeley Historical Society