Neal & Carolyn Cassady’s house at 29 Russell St., San Francisco

It’s been about ten years now since I saw Beat legends Neal and Carolyn Cassady’s house. It was such a thrill for me; I can remember it perfectly. My old friends Kirstin and Colin, from Alaska had just moved down to San Francisco the year before in 1998, and had told me about it. “Yeah,” Kirstin told me, “it’s just up the street from our apartment.” Jack Kerouac lived with them for a while, during 1951 when he was working on On the Road, and I had been a fan of his writing for a long time.

I’d just gotten a newspaper internship to the San Francisco Bay Guardian, but before I moved to town, I took a trip around the country on the bus with my friend Eric—I’d told him about my solo Greyhounding adventures the year before, and we ended up making a similar trip, only crazier since we were together. We hit San Francisco, much worse for wear, having made our way down the West Coast visiting friends. One of the first things I asked Kirstin to show me was the Cassadys’ house.

29 Russell St., 1999, by Joshua Medsker
29 Russell St., 1999, by Joshua Medsker.

After putting our sweaty day-packs down in Kirstin and Colin’s apartment on Hyde St., which would soon be my new home, the four of us trekked further up Hyde—out of the desperate Tenderloin district, into the old money of Nob Hill, and further on to the leafy side streets and quiet charms of Russian Hill. “It’s supposed to be at 29 Russell St.,” Kirstin said. We saw Russell St., obscured by some tree branches, and made a left from Hyde. We found the house, and my reverie was broken when I saw a mid-90s model Subaru parked outside. It was a small, brown 50s style house, not much to look at. It reminded me of my grandmother’s house in Alaska.

Kirstin and I were the only rabid fans among us four, so we took turns taking pictures in front of the house. For a second, I considered knocking on the door, just to see who lived there, but I thought that would be too much. I have heard that the anarchist writer Hakim Bey lives there, but I cannot verify this. I looked longingly up at the attic window, where Kerouac slept and wrote (and carried on an affair with Carolyn, although it was known to all parties, and oddly enough didn’t destroy the friendships of the three.) I imagined him sitting up in that room, furiously making history, maybe walking down to the corner store for his much-needed bottles of sweet wine and cigarettes. After marveling for a while, we left, and walked into the store on the corner. Kirstin and I fantasized that it was the same store that Jack and Neal and Carolyn went to back then, and talked old slang as we bought oranges, soda, and candy to continue our walk.

The walk down to the end of Hyde St., to the pier at Fisherman’s Wharf, and around to North Beach and the rest of San Francisco was fantastic, but it will never compare to seeing that simple little house.

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