The Jack Kerouac Foundation is offering the public a glimpse of its vision for the building, a former Catholic church, it hopes to develop into The Jack Kerouac Center, a performance venue, museum, educational center, and bookstore/café.
In advance of its capital fundraising phase, the foundation has posted site plans, drone-shot images, renderings by SCB Architects, and other materials at jackkerouaccenter.com. The site also offers visitors a link to make donations and explains the history of the iconic, Lowell, Massachusetts-born author and his connection to the former St. Jean Baptiste Parish, a cornerstone of the city’s French-Canadian community.
“We are very energized by the opportunity to work with the Jack Kerouac Foundation to create a home for the museum and performance center that expresses the importance the City of Lowell played in Jack’s life,” says Bryan Irwin, Principal at SCB Architects. “Jack Kerouac was formed by his experiences growing up in the neighborhoods of Lowell and his relationship to the Catholic Church was both complicated and critical to understanding his work. We sought to reflect this in a design that strengthens and enhances the existing edifice and neighborhood while creating a new dialogue—a new way of seeing and interpreting this fabric.”
The former church, built in 1896, was where a young Kerouac served as an altar boy, as well as the site of his funeral in 1969. The church remained consecrated when it was temporarily closed in 1993 with the termination of St. Jean Baptiste Parish but became part of Nuestra Senora del Carmen Parish in 1994 to serve the area’s Latino population before being closed and deconsecrated in 2004. It remained shuttered until TMI Property Management & Development purchased it.
The Kerouac Foundation invited the public to see the building while celebrating Kerouac’s centennial in March, and has met with TMI owner Brian McGowan, as well as SCB Architects, Existing Conditions 3D Laser Scanning, Aberthaw Construction Company, and directors and developers of such centers as the Grammy Museum, the National Steinbeck Center, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Woody Guthrie Center.
“We have put many things into motion this year and feel it’s time to share our detailed vision for the Jack Kerouac Center as we delve into the major fundraising it will take to make it a reality,” says Sylvia Cunha, Executive Director of the Jack Kerouac Foundation. “Once the world of Kerouac fans and the local community see what we’d like to do, we can move down the road to creating a hometown destination for visitors from far and wide.”
“While there are monuments honoring Kerouac in Lowell and other places,” says Jim Sampas, literary executor of the Jack Kerouac Estate, “there is no museum or performance center offering popular access to artistic performances and a wide range of archival materials touching on his life, work, and history as a product of Lowell. Visitors from around the world who come to retrace his steps here deserve a place where they can see and experience how he was shaped, what he produced, and how he has influenced artists everywhere. What better place than the building where his funeral Mass was conducted and where he served for a time as an altar boy?”
The Jack Kerouac Foundation hopes the center not only serves as a welcoming hub for Kerouac pilgrims, but as a connective thread to the community, where artists of all stripes can perform and exhibit, and young writers of all ages from area schools can learn and share their craft.
Kerouac was an American novelist, poet, and icon of the Beat movement that was born in Lowell, Massachusetts. Kerouac’s most famous book, On the Road (1957), continues to have broad cultural influence. In his work, the author challenged conventional form and was part of the most important literary and artistic movement of the 1950s. ◊
You can buy On the Road here.