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'Little Pink House' Hits The Big Screen, Reviving New London Eminent Domain Saga

Harriet Jones
Connecticut Public Radio
Susette Kelo stands in front of a picture of her little pink house, hanging in her present home in Griswold

A landmark Supreme Court case over eminent domain and people’s right to private property is back in the headlines with the new movie “Little Pink House.” It tells the story of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood in New London, which was the scene of an epic struggle between a municipality that wanted to take property for the purpose of economic development, and the homeowners who resisted every step of the way. 

Actor Catherine Keener portrays Susette Kelo, the Fort Trumbull resident who became the face of the fight to save her neighborhood. The film pits her against Jeanne Tripplehorn, playing a fictionalized version of Claire Gaudiani, then the head of the New London Development Corporation.

The city wanted to redevelop the waterfront land as high-end housing and offices - a complement to the next door development being built by drug giant Pfizer. And that included removing Kelo’s little pink house.

“You go to work every day, you pay your bills, you’re a taxpayer, you’re a law-abiding citizen, you keep your yard clean, grow your vegetables in your little garden, raise your family -- and to have this happen to people who were just trying to be simple people and live their lives was really wrong,” said Kelo in a recent interview with Connecticut Public Radio.

In the end, she lost the battle as the historic neighborhood was razed. Then again, it’s not clear who actually won because now, almost 20 years since the first eminent domain notices went out, nothing has replaced those homes, and Fort Trumbull remains a vacant parcel of land.

Credit Harriet Jones / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
Fort Trumbull remains a vacant lot, years after the eminent domain controversy.

Kelo has moved three times since she left her little pink house, and now lives in Griswold, miles from her former home. The house itself was disassembled and moved to another location in New London.

Kelo has tried to remain private in recent years and she stayed away from the production crew as they shot the movie. But she’s glad it was made, ”so people can really kind of see what happened to us, just making it public again and more a permanent piece of history where nobody’s going to forget,” she said.

Although the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the city, Kelo said in the end something good did come out of her fight, as more states and towns have put in place controls on eminent domain powers.

Harriet Jones is Managing Editor for Connecticut Public Radio, overseeing the coverage of daily stories from our busy newsroom.

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