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The Beat Goes Down

Neal Cassady's House
Skye Dunlap

The Road Ends Here: Current owner Hemmie Schechter watches as a bulldozer demolishes the former home of Beat Generation luminary Neal Cassady.

Neal Cassady's house--once a pit stop for Kerouac and Ginsberg, bites the dust

By Clarence Cromwell

DURING THE 1950s, Neal Cassady's house at 18231 Bancroft Ave. was a frequent stop for Beat writers Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. In the '60s, the guest list included novelist Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Cassady once drove Kesey's psychedelic bus Furthur up Bancroft Avenue with the transmission stuck in reverse as wide-eyed neighbors watched the multicolored, wired-for-sound spectacle.

On Aug. 22, it took less than five minutes for a bulldozer to destroy Cassady's former home, a small, olive-green ranch house. At about 8:25am a bulldozer nearly as high as the building roared to life in the driveway. The operator spun the monster 180 degrees to face the building and leveled the garage in two passes, then turned to the left and plowed into the main part of the house. Within five minutes, a pile of lumber and bricks remained to be loaded into a huge blue dumpster on the lawn.

The current owners, Bruce and Hemmie Schechter, decided to tear down the house and replace it with a 2,800-square-foot Cape Cod­ style house. Carolyn Cassady sold the house to the Schecters in 1987.

A group of 10 or so spectators grew to about 15 as nearby neighbors wandered outside to watch the demolition machine. John Cassady, son of Neal and Carolyn Cassady, taped the demolition on a video recorder and reminisced with his boyhood pal Bill Reimer.

A few minutes before demolition began, the pair snapped photos in the house, from which windows and doors had already been removed.

Cassady recalled the spot just west of the front door where Kerouac used to sit in a chair and read his books, unless he was drinking port at the bar between the living room and the kitchen.

Neal Cassady's memoirs and letters have been published, but he's better known for being written about. He tagged along with the best minds of his generation. With them, he traveled the country, prowled the Bay Area and smoked marijuana in the living room on Bancroft Avenue.

"Jack probably lived here off and on for weeks at a time," Cassady said. "He'd camp in the back yard, just sleeping under the stars. Ginsberg would visit whenever he was in the Bay Area.

"I just wish the walls could talk," he added.

Cassady got permission from the new owners to remove the bartop and the front door from the house. The door was still the weird day-glow green color that Carolyn Cassady painted it in the '70s, he said.

Neal Cassady built the house for $16,000 in 1954 after receiving a settlement from the Southern Pacific Railroad related to a train accident. Cassady was a Southern Pacific brakeman until he won the $20,000 court settlement and lost his job. Neal Cassady died in 1968 in Mexico.

The demolition came as a surprise to Monte Sereno city officials, who were unaware of the house's significance. The Cassady house was not listed on the city's inventory of historic buildings. Former Heritage Preservation Committee member Sue Anawalt said the city wasn't thorough enough in identifying its historic buildings when it launched the heritage committee.

"The list we were given was very incomplete," Anawalt said. "We were trying to slowly add to it."

Had the house been on the list, the demolition probably would have taken place anyway, because the Monte Sereno City Council gutted the historic preservation ordinance in March.

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From the Aug. 27-Sept. 3, 1997 issue of Metro.

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