Thursday marked an end of an era officially when the Hunan name came off of the facade at 47 East Lancaster Ave. in Ardmore, PA.
At some point after Covid, one of my favorite places in the whole world, Hunan restaurant in Ardmore, closed their doors .
I had been going here since I was 11 or 12 and like everyone else I think the pandemic has just worn them out. It is no fun being a restaurant. First you couldn’t be open. Then you could only be takeout. Then you could re-open but a lot of places found their employees scattered.
The family that owned this restaurant (the Foos) are family friends to me and we had so many celebrations there, My sister and I used to have birthday parties there upstairs when we were younger, and so on. And for many years up until A couple of years before they closed, many of my birthdays were still at Hunan.
I was gladly part of the Save Ardmore Coalition when Ardmore was threatened by eminent domain for private gain, and it was specifically because of Hunan and the Foos I got involved in the first place. I still have a very distinct memory of the Friday evening. I went into Hunan for dinner, and Betty came up to our table and said with tears in her eyes “They want to take our building.” Betty then asked me to get involved with a new group that was forming, and I said yes.
I can tell you that living in Chester County sadly made this restaurant just far enough away for weekly visits, and Ardmore has the worst parking ever thanks to Lower Merion Township.
This family however prevailed through everything. And for 50 years they served us their food, some of the best food imaginable. I used to love when Chris their son and chef would let us order things he was trying out off the menu. This is a place where every time you went in the door it was one of the nicest vibes possible. Everyone was welcomed whether it was the first time or the 500th time they had been in.
From the time I was a kid, there was nothing more fun than introducing new people to Hunan restaurant in Ardmore.
Also, once upon a time, Betty taught cooking classes. My mother and I took one. It was awesome.
Dumplings. The dumplings here, whether they be regular, special like curry or something else were legendary and no one will ever beat Hunan in the dumpling department. And the sweet and sour soup was the best there is. And then all the other things like the dishes with duck, or dishes made with little tiny, fresh sardines, or really spicy, minced pork with peppers that were hot enough to make the roof of your mouth come off.
And something else you always had to have were the Chinese vegetables. It was what was seasonal at the time, and always delicious. In the vegetable department, the spicy string beans, and the hot and sweet cabbage, which was essentially pickled, were amazing.
I remember when we were in the restaurant on my birthday in 2014 when the actress Kate Flannery stopped by. She had worked in Hunan as a waitress when I was in high school or somewhere around that time.
Every time you went into Hunan, no matter where you had been, it was like coming home. And we were treated like family.
There are so many memories for me, associated with Hunan from all different stages of my life. And that is the way it was in this restaurant for so many.
The Foo family also survived a fire after surviving Lower Merion Township’s failed attempt at eminent domain for private gain.
If I back up to the days of eminent domain in Ardmore for a moment, we had most of our meetings on the second floor of Hunan. And Betty and E Ni always fed us. We even introduced Congressman James Sensenbrenner to Hunan once upon a time.
After eminent domain, and after the fire, Hunan rebuilt. An architect who was part of Save Ardmore Coalition helped them create an updated look. The updated Hunan was gorgeous and the walls for the most part we’re lined with Dr. Foo’s artwork.
It was July 2010 when they re-opened. And it was packed and beautiful. I still have photos so here I’ll share some:
So the sign coming off the building this is so much the end of an era. And it’s not just for those of us who loved this restaurant, it’s an end of an era in Ardmore as well because this was a business that stuck with this town through thick and thin, quite literally.
I know businesses can’t stay in a place forever. And I actually accept that, but this was a place that was just so special. So thank you to the Foo family for the memories and for feeding us for decades I hope whoever goes in here does well now that the building is sold.
Hunan was one of those places that even if you didn’t live in the area anymore, whenever you were in town, you would come back and go there. I secretly wish that they would create a cookbook. It wouldn’t be the same as eating there, but it would be something so worth having in a cookbook library in your home.
It was weird in a way going back now as a veritable stranger to a place I spent so much time in for so many years. So much has changed and I don’t necessarily feel it has changed for the better.
Ardmore needs more….love. And positive municipal attention.
In my prior post, I wrote about the condition of the sidewalks and streets in Ardmore, and the roads in general throughout Lower Merion Township. The roads are in deplorable condition. It’s like they are growing orange highway cones as a cash crop in places, and in other places, holes and what not are just waiting to trip people up. And when I asked a couple of people about it, they all say the same thing that they report these things to the township but nothing happens. It makes you wonder what former West Chester Borough Manager and current Lower Merion Township Manager Ernie McNeely does besides fall asleep at meetings, where they are talking about the police, right?
And when it comes to managers, I wasn’t necessarily a huge fan of the manager who proceeded Ernie McNeely, but somehow Lower Merion seems worse than when I moved? I remember when my friends from West Chester heard that McNeely was going to Lower Merion and they just laughed and laughed and laughed and said “good luck to them!”
I guess now I know why, because Lower Merion looks like crap in their business districts. There might be tons of new places to eat, but nobody leaves their lights on much anymore except for stores that have been there long enough to know it makes a difference, the streets are dirty and broken up. There’s a lot of trash. Especially in Ardmore.
Ardmore used to be different and you could feel an energy. And most importantly, people knew one another. You would hear people saying hello to each other going past each other on the street. last night for the first time on a Saturday night, I didn’t hear that. And I also noticed that in spite of all the dining choices it’s like people go early to eat, and they just leave. By like 9 o’clock-ish when we left the restaurant, it was a ghost town.
We met at my friend Sherry’s store, Past*Present*Future. As well as being one of my most favorite and cherished friends, her store is always one of my favorite places to visit. And more people should discover the wonderful treasures inside. (hint to my lovely Savvy lady- have you ever interviewed her and visited?)
Past*Present*Future was one of the few non-food establishments with good lighting. The other was the Junior League Thrift Shop, which had some wonderful window displays as well. There was a salon that had some lights on with one guy sitting there inside. But these places being lit made an enormous difference, especially since the township has broken sidewalks and stuff in front of some of these places and bricks all up out of where the street trees are….and as much as anything else, keeping the stores lit, reduces the chance of somebody tripping and possibly falling.
The other thing about these two stores with lights is when we first got to Ardmore, these were the stores where people were actually looking in the windows of. And that’s the thing, people used to look in the windows more. You don’t have the people that stroll. Now it was cold last night, but it wasn’t unpleasant walking.
SEPTA also has moved a train platform to behind Past*Present*Future and Merion Art and Repro since I lived there. I guess it’s part of the station makeover? You can see a little SEPTA sign in my photos. So what I wonder is why haven’t they (SEPTA) paid to light that alley and parking lot people have to cross to get to platform better when it’s dark? And the configuration they created in the back for the platform affects the limited parking that a lot of Ardmore merchants desperately need on that side of Lancaster. It’s kind of surprising that SEPTA can’t do a better job around there, right? And after all Leslie Richards head of SEPTA is very familiar with Ardmore because she spent enough time campaigning during events when she wanted to be county commissioner, didn’t she?
And the trash. Can I talk about the trash on the sidewalks again? Or the trash cans that needed to be emptied that are Township trash cans? Does no one get that people notice these things? And I think one of the things about the trash is people in general have gotten worse since COVID. It started with all the disposable masks and even disposable gloves just chucked on the ground. I think people in general are just littering more and it doesn’t help when trashcans aren’t emptied enough in business districts and shopping centers. Gateway Shopping Center has trash issues too in Tredyffrin. (but I digress.)
Which brings me to the Ardmore Initiative. It’s a marvel they were renewed. They are supposed to be all about the business district and even their own front stoop looks like crap. If their job is to make Ardmore look good and help the business district why isn’t there attention paid to the little things that help businesses? I was thinking of Borough, and even West Chester Borough when I was in Ardmore last night. All of these main street oriented municipalities are struggling through the same economic uncertainties, yet Malvern and West Chester just seem so much more alive and Malvern doesn’t even have the number of stores or restaurants that Ardmore does!
Quite literally the Ardmore which the Ardmore Initiative features on their website doesn’t look like what I saw last night and it makes me sad.
It was like the lights under the bridge tunnel entering Ardmore? The tunnel was dark last night, so what happened to those expensive lights?
So if there’s this business district authority, and it costs people to belong to it whether they want to or not because it’s kind of like a tax /assessment thing, what are they doing for the businesses and people in Ardmore? The last Executive Director who took over when the one which preceded her who got sick, literally worked her ass off and no matter what you thought of the Ardmore Initiative, it showed. Not the same now at all.
I just looked up the Ardmore Initiative website today and they have MORE people working and what do they do? Ardmore has enough in the dining arena that it should have more vibrancy at night and it does not. And there also aren’t as many stores where you can look in the windows, which is pretty basic for a main street business district to make people want to stay and poke around.
But then again, people always said Ardmore’s biggest problem was that Lower Merion Township was headquartered in it. Also what ails Ardmore will not be solved by more infill development. You can’t artificially manufacture energy. Elbow grease and a certain mindset goes into that. Ardmore still deserves better.
Now where we went and where we ate, which was terrific, and why I think Ardmore deserves better once again. We started out at Matatawny Still Works Ardmore tasting room. We buy their whiskeys sometimes now, but I had never been to one of their tasting rooms. It is a really cool space and a fun vibe and they had great music on so a couple of people did a whiskey tasting and I had this amazing spiked apple cider, which was just the thing to warm you up on a chilly night. And the fun thing about this place is you can bring takeout dinners into there and eat while you do a whiskey tasting.
From there, since we already had a parking spot, we headed to Cricket Avenue for dinner. We passed Buena Vista which we go to in Lincoln Court Shopping Center which was packed in Ardmore and Maido the Japanese grocery store which is so cool.
Crossing Lancaster Ave there at Anderson Avenue in Ardmore has not improved since people still don’t pay attention to pedestrians crossing correctly at the lights. Oh, and people still blow that light headed east on Lancaster which begs the question of the police station is right there, so you would think traffic would be better, right? Especially if Lower Merion wants to persist in their pedestrian walkability fantasy?
So on Cricket Avenue I still miss MilkBoy Coffee on the corner. Sorry but pucciManuli doesn’t do it for me and I had a friend tell me recently that they wanted to go in there for a gift and had to be buzzed in, the door wasn’t just open during business hours. I tried to patronize them a bunch of years ago, even before they were at that location and I just found them overpriced. And I love handmade and better quality things, but their prices? Meh.
I will admit that I still think that 1 Ardmore Place is super ugly. For those of you who grew up around Ardmore, these apartments are on the parking lot that used to exist for the old movie theater, which also does not exist anymore . I still hate the design aesthetic of this building, and it totally doesn’t fit in with the area.
We had dinner at Nam Phuong Bistro on Cricket Avenue. They have really wonderful Vietnamese cuisine. It was a terrific meal and I would go back again. I will caution people they don’t have much staff so you have to be prepared to be patient but the people who work there couldn’t be nicer. Their spring rolls were awesome and they also do softshell crabs which is one of my favorite things and they were fabulous. The prices were good and it’s one of those places that I had such a good meal. I forgot to take pictures of the food!
That was the end of my Ardmore re-entry adventure and we headed our way back home to Chester County. Walking back up Cricket. I was glad to see McCloskey’s had a good crowd, and looked as cheerful as ever. One thing that bummed me out, though is there is no more Marjorie Schneider Antiquary. I loved that store and used to love looking in the windows from the time I was young. She had wonderful antiques!
Before we went home, we drove around Ardmore a little bit, and I hadn’t been down some of the streets I used to walk on regularly for years. I came to the conclusion, however, that as much as I miss a lot of my friends down there, I do not miss Lower Merion at all. I think it is probably because the area I grew up in still exists because a lot of the buildings and people are still there, but it has lost so much of what made it very special. It has lost a feeling.
And seeing Ardmore with finally new restaurant destinations but no foot traffic and vibrancy on a Saturday night made me just shake my head. As I said earlier, Ardmore was one of those places where people would say hello to each other on the street as they passed by. Now there is this more transient nature, and a lot of that I think has to do with the infill development. The rental price points, like many other places, are off the charts, so people come, but they don’t stay.
I know this is kind of a mixed review of a visit to a place that I just loved so much once upon a time, but it just really disappoints me that Lower Merion Township just doesn’t really seem to give a crap about the Ardmore Historic Business District, even worse than before. What did we save Ardmore from when we stopped eminent domain for private gain years ago?
Small businesses need a lot of local love. If you are from outside Lower Merion, show Ardmore some love.
If we don’t support small businesses, they cease to exist and we are stuck with homogeneous box stores and chains. And if you live in Lower Merion Township still, I encourage people to stand up and not only demand a better police department but better township management and elected officials. What I saw last night wasn’t “first class” it was “We don’t care, just shut up and pay your taxes.”
Change doesn’t happen overnight, but it starts with baby steps and standing up and caring. Use social media to show why Lower Merion needs to do better on so many fronts. It’s also time to question why the Ardmore Initiative exists. They obviously aren’t living up to their mission statement which of course also begs the question of do they deserve their non-profit status?
Discover something new in Main Street towns like Ardmore, and even West Chester and Malvern Borough. Discover what makes them tick. And if you don’t like something a municipality would be responsible for, hold local government accountable, don’t take it out on the small businesses.
I was in Ardmore again for the first time in a very long time. There are lots of dining options and other things to look at, but the streets are broken and filthy.
The roadways themselves are broken and rutted and it’s hard to imagine a township with so much money and bravado can’t seem to see the ruts and potholes.
So here I was back in Ardmore, where the actual township building is located, in the Historic Ardmore Business District with a business improvement improvement district called the Ardmore Initiative and let’s talk about the god damn sidewalks in what they like to call “the Main Street” of the Main Line. They are deplorable and dangerous. But hey, they can keep deluding themselves, right?
The sidewalks are badly broken in too many places, so I wonder if this is an odd metaphor for the state of Lower Merion Township itself? And it’s February so why are the holiday snowflakes still up?
Many years ago many of us fought to save the Historic Ardmore Business District. I am not sure what we saved Ardmore for. It’s so wrong.
I do have to give a shout out once in a while to one of my favorite stores, Past*Present*Future in Ardmore, PA. They are in the heart of the historic business district at 15 W. Lancaster Avenue. They are next-door to Merion Art and Repro.
You can shop in person at the store, you can shop online, and you can shop and do curbside pickup. Masks are a requirement in the store, but I don’t mind businesses that take every precaution for their staff and customers.
The owner Sherry is a long time and very dear and close friend. My favorite present from her ever was shortly after I received my breast cancer diagnosis and she gave me this funky cool sculpture that was an F bomb literally.
I have a pillow in my living room that everyone loves of foxes. All hand embroidered it. It came from Sherry and her store. The store when you go in is a feast for your senses because there are so many cool things to look at. If you go to visit her I suggest you take a couple laps around and then focus on areas that you like. She has amazing fair trade crafts from around the world, and she also reps independent jewelry designers who have some of the most fabulous stuff out there. And things you can wear every day not things you have to lock away for safety.
Mostly I shop from online and off her Instagram page these days because I just don’t get to Ardmore very often. But her shipping is always reasonable, and like I said you can do curbside pick up. I encourage in person visits because she has a tremendous and unique card section that you won’t find any place else – there are lots of cards out there for every occasion but it’s hard to find ones that are quality or when you want one that’s funny, to find one that’s actually funny.
And yes this is a place that when I mount and frame some of my photographs I sell them here. Take for example this one you see in this photo below👇
But I am not posting this because I have a photo for sale there. I am posting this because she has so much fun stuff and I love her store. This is a great store to find something really unique and special for Valentine’s Day and any other special occasion you might have. It is also a store used for corporate gifts and in the back there is a section of old fashion children’s toys that are among my personal favorites.
And I will state for the record that I am not being compensated for this post, I was not asked to write this post, I am writing this post because I want to and it’s my friend’s business and I have been a happy customer for a couple of decades. And the fact that this store started originally in Center City Philadelphia many years ago and has been open for so many years tells you about the quality of the items being sold.
📌None of this is Angela Murray’s fault. Not the giant crane that hovers over the Cricket Avenue parking lot, its American flag billowing in the breeze. Not the 110 apartments rising from a giant hole in the ground. Not the upheaval for residents and business owners alike. Not the possible traffic congestion. None of it.
“People have blamed me,” says Murray, who’s been Lower Merion Township’s assistant director of building and planning for 16 years. “But I think it meets a need that was pressing.”….The allocated state money was supposed to go for the station, but when Amtrak balked at allowing apartments so close to its tracks, the plan—which included replacing some buildings along Lancaster Avenue south of the station—lost momentum. Meanwhile, the Save Ardmore folks filed lawsuits and protested the idea mightily. “Amtrak didn’t want people living so close to the rail line because it didn’t think it would be safe,” Lower Merion’s Murray says. “They were concerned about people throwing things out of windows onto the track.”📌
So….this is quite the piece in favor of Ardmore development. I don’t know who the writer is but my, he was sure led by the nose down a primrose development path.
I also take issue with the latest attempt at glossing over eminent domain in Ardmore. But then I also do not quite understand the article love affair with Angela Murray of Lower Merion Township, but perhaps she had a hand in the placement of the article?
Lower Merion Township can not unring the bells of the past.
Back in the day, as a member of the ORIGINAL Save Ardmore Coalition, Ms. Murray was awful to us. She was not nice, she was perennially unpleasant. However she wasn’t alone. You were either with them or against them. If you were against them, well then you were the enemy.
In 2004–2006, Ardmore’s business district was the subject of a hotly contested eminent domain for private gain battle. Lower Merion wanted to take a nice train track side chunk of land via eminent domain and give it over to private development- hence the private gain part.
A grassroots organization of which I was part of until diagnosed with breast cancer in the spring of 2011, the Save Ardmore Coalition, along with local businesses and other civic associations and civics groups, opposed eminent domain as a redevelopment program that would have involved the demolition of historic buildings, in favor of preserving those buildings for other commercial use.
In March 2006 after the previous election in the fall of 2005 when a large chunk of the THEN Board of Commissioners got voted out of office and the then new and improved 2006 Lower Merion Township Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution disavowing the use of eminent domain for the benefit of private redevelopment projects. The Ardmore battle was also instrumental in prompting PA to enact state legislation in 2006 restricting the use of eminent domain for private projects.
So that is the Cliff Notes version. Those of us down in the trenches back then were vilified and targeted. We were publicity spun into being resident and business owner pariahs by our opposition. It was really, really bad. All for defending what we loved.
Lower Merion Township have you forgotten? I haven’t.
Mind you this is not the first time that Lower Merion has placed Ardmore pieces that were glossy and glossed over things. May 2009 for the same magazine was one time and they even used my photo:
It hasn’t all been fabulous and if people point fingers at Lower Merion Township appointed and elected officials well shall we say it has been with good reason?
Ardmore’s largest handicap, is the fact Lower Merion Township as in the township seat, is situated there.
I am not commenting on the most recent past president of Save Ardmore Coalition or the litigation they filed in more recent times. It was sort of a horse is already out of the barn scenario to go after One Ardmore Place when they did. I did not think they would get the necessary traction and a positive result, and they didn’t.
But are they wrong?
I still think this development is a hideous mistake. I think their overlay zoning ordinance known as MUST (Mixed Use Special Transit/More Unfair Special Treatment take your pick) has been a disaster since enactment, and the development on and off Ardmore’s “Main Street” is ridiculous. You know, like the “mini” Target and whatever else is going to happen at the corner of Ardmore Avenue and Lancaster Avenue?
I think these developments will destroy Ardmore. But perhaps the only way for other parts of Lower Merion Township to survive is to lose Ardmore to all of this development?
The thing is this, I think for the most part these types of developments ultimately fail is because nothing is done in moderation. Nothing is done truly in concert with residents and/or small businesses. A good game is always talked, and with the case of Ardmore, Lower Merion Township is always trying to change the underlying narrative, but they can’t.
The township is responsible for this cluster F. They are responsible for the mistrust of residents and the like. They have never owned their part and their many, many missteps.
It’s a shame, really.
The other fault lies with Lower Merion Township voters. And who they allow to continue to represent them.
I loved spending a lot of my growing up and young adult to early middle-aged years in Lower Merion Township, but as an adult the bloom came off of the rose. And a lot of that had to do with all of the politics, development, and Ardmore.
It is because of what I bore witness to in Lower Merion that the pace of development in Chester County terrifies me….because I have already lived through the negative effects of overdevelopment.
And it is only getting worse because read the jaw dropping Main Line Times article of April 20 on what Lower Merion School District wants to do.
Lower Merion Township claims it’s brand as exclusive and well-heeled. I think the history books will remember this time as the cautionary tale of what happens to a beautiful area when development takes over.
Another post with a postscript, as I received a note tonight with photos:
📌Loved your post tonight, especially as one who lives smack dam in the center of the nightmare – Suburban Square neighborhood. You came to my house once, about 14 years ago.
Take a look at this, and please consider encouraging anyone you know who cares about fighting the blood thirsty developers in LMT to show up at the meeting Township Planning meeting this week to oppose the demolition of three quintessential Main Line Homes to make way for CF Holloway’s next apartment building – 4 stories and a parking garage directly across Montgomery Avenue from Suburban Square. I live in one of them.
Sale of all three homes is contingent upon Holloway getting LMT’s buy-in. Sadly, I think we both know how this will turn out. Here’s a pic of the building I live in on Glenn Road.📌
Wonder if the developer will cry on cue if things do not go his way like he did one time in Radnor?
People live in that house. It is in nice shape and it is lovely. But does the fact that people live there and it’s lovely matter in Lower Merion Township? (And by the way, the head of the Chester County Planning Commission lives in Lower Merion. And spent many a year on Lower Merion’s Planning Commission.)
Based on a true story, Little Pink House is about a small-town paramedic named Susette Kelo leaves a bad marriage, and starts over in a new town. She buys a rundown cottage with a gorgeous water view. She fixes it up and paints it pink. Then she discovers powerful politicians want to bulldoze her blue-collar neighborhood for the benefit of a multi-billion dollar corporation.
With the help of a young lawyer named Scott Bullock, Susette emerges as the reluctant leader of her neighbors in an epic battle that goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, inspires a nation, and helps millions of Americans protect their homes.
Susette Kelo taken in front of her little pink house around 2008 (I think) – It has been a long time since I looked at these photos. Scott Mahan photo.
And all of a sudden, I am taken back years. I see faces I haven’t thought of in years; hear voices and snippets of long gone conversations. Ardmore, PA to Washington, DC and Virginia. What a long strange trip it was.
Dick Saha of Coatesville (left), Scott Mahan (center), Nancy Saha of Coatesville (right). I took this photo in June of 2006 down in DC/VA at an Institute for Justice/Castle Coalition conference on Eminent Domain.
My friends and I were ordinary people who became accidental activists via the Save Ardmore Coalition. I resigned my position at Save Ardmore Coalition (“SAC”) in 2011 when diagnosed with breast cancer. I do not know if the organization still exists at all or not, truthfully. I am not there any more. My friends and I have all moved forward into our lives, and now we are mostly like local folklore. Normal people who went to Washington to fight eminent domain and hang out with people like Susette Kelo. But it’s not folklore, or urban legend as we did all that and lived through all of that.
Scott Mahan (left), Susette Kelo (center), Ken Haskin (right). Scott Mahan photo (again circa 2008 or thereabouts)
It was a long road for those of us who were the original SAC and we paid heavy prices for our activism at times (it was not pretty), but I would do it all over again as it was the right thing to do. We were part of the Institute for Justice/Castle Coalition’s eminent domain fighting communities.
My friends from Ardmore and I (the original Save Ardmore Coalition) went to Washington once upon a time as I mentioned when Susette Kelo and others (like Long Branch NJ and the Sahas of Coatesville, PA and the other New London, CT /Fort Trumbull folks) were fighting eminent domain for private gain. We lived this with the Institute for Justice as we fought (and won) Ardmore’s battle.
They were crazy times and I am proud of what we did in Ardmore back then. I am honored I got to spend time with Susette Kelo and the other amazing folks from other cities and states along with the people from the Institute for Justice.
Little Pink House Movie Hits the Big Screen, Seeks to End Eminent Domain Abuse
Biopic on Supreme Court’s Landmark Kelo Ruling Shows How Eminent Domain for Private Gain Destroyed Lives and an Entire Community
Eminent domain creates strange political bedfellows: Once-developer and now-President Donald Trump, along with liberal justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, came out against ordinary homeowners and in favor of the government and private developers.
But for the government’s use of eminent domain, corporations would be powerless to take someone else’s home.
The release of Little Pink House provides a rare opportunity for political unity. It should unite the Left, which wants to limit corporate influence on government, and the Right, which wants to limit government power over property.
Little Pink House is both a major motion picture and a cautionary tale that shows what happens when the government teams up with powerful private interests to take an entire working-class neighborhood for a glitzy development—a project that 13 years later is nothing but barren fields.
Starring two-time Academy Award nominee Catherine Keener and Emmy nominee Jeanne Tripplehorn, Little Pink House opens on April 20 and will be screened in theaters across the nation. It tells the true story of Susette Kelo (played by Keener), a small-town paramedic from New London, Connecticut, who buys her first home—a cottage—and paints it pink. When the governor and his allies plan to bulldoze her little pink house to make way for a development benefitting the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, Kelo fights back, taking her case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
As documented in the film, after Kelo lost her U.S. Supreme Court case, her struggle sparked a nationwide backlash against eminent domain abuse that today helps millions of Americans better protect what is rightfully theirs. The Supreme Court used the Keloruling to radically expand this government power—allowing eminent domain for the mere promise from a developer that it might pay more taxes if given someone else’s land, rather than for an actual public use, as required by the U.S. Constitution. Because of the grassroots backlash at the state level against eminent domain abuse, however, the Kelo case is justifiably seen as a situation in which the government won the battle, but lost the war. Still, the Institute for Justice, which represented Kelo, stated that more reforms are still needed if the abuse of this government power is to be ended once and for all.
“Little Pink House wonderfully captures what the fight for property rights is all about,” said Institute for Justice President Scott Bullock, who argued the Kelo case before the U.S. Supreme Court. “A house is typically someone’s most valuable asset, but the value of a home goes well beyond its mere monetary worth. For so many, it is an extension of who they are and what they value. It is where a person might raise a family, grow a small business, celebrate, mourn and grow old. Eminent domain abuse, as depicted in this film, is not only unconstitutional, it is profoundly wrong. Little Pink House vividly documents the heroic struggle of Susette and her neighbors to not only fight for their homes but for the constitutional rights of millions of others in America and throughout the world.”
Little Pink House should unite those on the Left who want to limit corporate influence on government, and those on the Right, who want to limit government power over property, said Bullock. Eminent domain abuse disproportionately strikes poor and minority communities, and there is often a giant gap between the promises made by redevelopment supporters and the promises such plans actually deliver. In just a five-year period, there were more than 10,000 instances nationwide where eminent domain for private development was either used or threatened by the government.
Government officials and the developer promised that the project that replaced Susette Kelo’s tight-knit blue-collar neighborhood would thrive and would make New London tax-rich. Now, 13 years after the landmark Kelo ruling, all that remains there are barren fields; nothing lives there now but weeds and feral cats.
“It was all for nothing,” said Susette Kelo. “The government put us through all that torture and now, more than a dozen years later, they have literally nothing to show for it. But even if they turned what was my home into an emerald city, that still wouldn’t have made it right. The government and their corporate confidants destroyed our neighborhood and our constitutional rights. We need to keep fighting this until we end eminent domain abuse once and for all.”
Eminent domain hot spots remain around the country. For example: In Garfield, New Jersey, the town’s redevelopment agency is using a bogus blight designation to take a zipper manufacturing warehouse, along with its neighbors’ homes, for a private developer to build private retail and housing. Cumberland, Maryland, is trying to bulldoze a number of homes to make way for a chain restaurant. The Bae family left Korea and built a successful dry cleaning business in East Harlem, New York. But city officials want to demolish it so a developer can build an entertainment complex.
Little Pink House has been lauded by The Hollywood Reporter and Deadline Hollywood, among others. In addition to attracting stars Keener and Tripplehorn, Little Pink House features the original song “Home Free,” written and performed for the movie by rock legend David Crosby.
The independent film was directed by Courtney Balaker and produced by her husband, Ted Balaker. It will open on screens across the nation with more screenings being added each week. In those markets where Little Pink House is not being shown in theaters, the public can follow a simple process to bring the movie to their hometown theater or enter an email address at littlepinkarmy.com and a representative from the film will walk them through the process.
Courtney Balaker said, “Eminent domain abuse is a fancy term for legalized bullying. It happens when insiders take advantage of outsiders. Developers and politicians promise more jobs and more tax revenue, so it sounds appealing to lots of people. But all the high-minded talk obscures what’s really going on—they’re forcing people out of their homes. If you own your home and you want to keep living in your home, you should be able to stay in your home. Eminent domain abuse happens far more often than most people realize, and it rarely brings the kind of economic development its supporters promise. It should come as no surprise that poor and minority communities are especially likely to be targeted.”
Eminent Domain for private gain is legal stealing, economic segregation, and more often than not, class warfare. When you receive a notice of a taking, your world turns inside out, not just upside down. At first you feel like you are in the battle completely and utterly alone. But you aren’t alone. There are a lot of us out there.
I didn’t set out in life to become a grassroots activist on any level, but eminent domain is an issue that, as an American, I found I simply could not ignore. I loved Ardmore, where eminent domain threatened a block of small businesses in a local historic business district. Ardmore to me was a quintessential old fashioned main street-oriented town. It represents the bygone days of small town America.
The township (Lower Merion) had declared this block “blighted,” and it intended to acquire these properties in a certified historic district for inclusion in a mixed-use development project to be owned by a private party.
One of the first lessons we learned as SAC was that when you are fighting a battle like this, you become an instant pariah. SAC next contacted the Institute for Justice and newly formed Castle Coalition, who gave us a crash course in grassroots activism.
We held rallies, protests and community meetings. We wrote letters to the newspapers until we had writer’s cramp. We took every opportunity to speak at public meetings. We lobbied government officials on a state and national level.
My friend Si Simons with Susette Kelo, June, 2006. My photo.
And we hit roadblocks. Although eminent domain had become a national issue when Susette Kelo took her case to the U.S. Supreme Court, in the Philadelphia area we discovered it was hard to get media attention from anyone other than the local papers. Eminent domain wasn’t sexy enough—it was just “a local issue”. We were called NIMBY and castigated publicly by certain local elected officials at public meetings, who referred to us as “a small group of mean spirited individuals.”
When someone told us in a letter if we didn’t like how government was run we should “change the face of who governs us,” our resolve as a group was strengthened. We decided to change literally the faces of those who were governing us. We had an upcoming election. We didn’t back one candidate in particular but decided they should all adopt our position and take IJ’s pledge against the use of eminent domain for private gain.
We were successful. In November 2005, we watched as five new faces against eminent domain were elected to the 14-member Board of Commissioners.
During this whole time before and after the election, we had the good fortune to finally get some national and even international media publicity. We networked further with other eminent domain fighting citizens locally and nationally. Members also gave testimony before both the Pennsylvania Senate and the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. We submitted written testimony to the U.S. Congress and became part of the record on HR 4128.
February, 2006 walking Congressman Sensenbrenner (left) around Ardmore. Scott Mahan (right). I am behind them on the left with then Congressman Jim Gerlach on the right)
In February 2006, then Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner came to town with Congressman Jim Gerlach to discuss eminent domain. In March 2006, the five new commissioners who came to office promising to end the specter of eminent domain did just that: they proposed and passed a resolution to end eminent domain. The businesses were free.
I will not lie. It was an exhausting process fighting eminent domain. I went to so many municipal and other meetings during this time, that even today I have a hard time going to meetings.
For me, there was also the fact that I hid my activism from my employers. I was working for then Wachovia Securities (now Wells Fargo), and while not officially forbidden, such outside activities were seriously frowned upon. We were supposed to be good little examples of Corporate America at all times, no matter what our position.
Seriously….see this movie. This can happen to anyone. It happened to people I know and people I met. And if you follow the current pipeline debacle, how do you think Sunoco has gotten land from Chester County residents? It certainly wasn’t candy and chocolates, it was the threat of eminent domain, wasn’t it?
Things that happen to small businesses that I hate. Not in Chester County but my old stomping grounds of Ardmore, PA.
So apparently someone hired this landscape company because someone put out big planters on Lancaster Avenue (see above.)
Now this is the Main Line so of course you have to hire someone to plant a couple of plants in a planter, right?
Well that is fine provided said service provider is NOT blocking public walkways, rear business entrances, and oh yes parking in someone’s posted private and non-municipal parking.
Well completely disregarding all of the above award of the week goes to Charles Friel Landscaping. They did this to one of my closest friends who is a small business owner.
And when she went out to basically ask him to move he was like he would be done soon and he had these plants to get in. My friend kept trying to explain that the guy was blocking her rear door (fire and safety hazard), parking in her customer parking on private property, and blocking a public walkway.
That is not right and for some reason he could not tell her who had paid for the planters (don’t people usually know for whom they are working?). None of the businesses (even the ones with them in front of their stores) seem to know where the big plastic planter boxes have come from.
I am all for community beautification in business districts as so many business districts just don’t bother. But what I am not for our people who do things like this landscape truck did today. Ardmore is horrible for parking. It gets as congested as the Borough of Malvern or downtown West Chester. But people need to be considerate of small businesses. These mom-and-pop shops make our communities unique and careless behavior like this literally takes business away from them because of people can’t get to the store they’re going to go someplace else.
I used to be a community activist. Really. It’s not so grand sounding, I think people just get to a point in their lives when they see change needs to occur and they seem to either choose activism or politics. While I am fascinated by politics, I would never want to be an elected official, so I chose activism.
It all started innocently enough.
Prior to 9/11 I did mostly traditional volunteer work. But there comes a time in your life when you can’t sit at the dinner table and murmur “that’s too bad.”
I come by my love of old houses and community by way of genetics. My late father was involved in every community we lived in starting with the early days of the Society Hill section of Philadelphia.
My personal entré into all of this started with my old neighborhood when the first of many developers sought to create infill development where I then lived. This developer was renovating an old factory/warehouse building which no one objected to. But the ingress/egress onto our street where it was literally 12 feet wide we did object to.
Then, on the heels of that at the time my alma mater The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr wanted to tear down historic Beechwood House in Bryn Mawr for a parking lot. I became part of a group headed by a fellow alumnae named Heather Hillman which raised the funds necessary to completely restore the house and give it a practical adaptive reuse in today’s world. The 9100 square foot home was an architectural gem designed by prominent late 19th century architect Addison Hutton. We did so well, the architects even won awards on the renovation. (A synopsis of what occurred can be found here.)
Then came the fateful night when I went to my friends’ restaurant in Ardmore and found the wife in tears. “They want to take our building” she said.
That was my introduction to eminent domain and how I came to be part of a 501(c)(4) civic action organization called the Save Ardmore Coalition. The group was comprised of many people from different walks of life as well as different political parties. We came together because we felt positive change was needed. Instead local politicians (of course) labeled us as being obstructionist.
Eminent Domain in Ardmore, Lower Merion Township was a long and horrible process. We went to Washington DC and stood beside people from all over the country including Long Branch, NJ, Camden NJ (Cramer Hill), Philadelphia and got to know a lady from New London CT named Susette Kelo who became the symbol of the anti-eminent domain movement all across this country. (See Kelo vs. City of New London).
In Ardmore we were lucky and we were able to defeat eminent domain for private gain and at the time unseat half of the board of commissioners in Lower Merion (there are the ridiculous number of 14) . I was part of a group of wonderful people who learned that once in a while ordinary people could be right and it was worth fighting for what you believed in.
But all of this came at a personal cost. We were labeled and tarred and feathered by developers and politicians and their cheerleaders and even paid publicists in Lower Merion Township. I was personally subject to craziness like a letter to the editor by two then business owners like it was all my fault and I was wrong to have an opinion. It was a crazy and angry time which lasted years and is still in fact going on. And people were and are nasty.
And nasty for what? Caring about where we lived? It was crazy, and I watch it still happen today and still think it is crazy. As residents I still believe that we need to be a much larger part of how our local governments decide things.
Essentially, I think a lot of communities need to taken back by residents before we are over-taxed, over-governed, and developed away. We need better historic preservation on local and state levels. It has to mean something or people won’t do it. We need the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code updated as well.
We need many things. But people need to be involved more where they live. It doesn’t matter if you are the loudest voice or the most quiet voice, just be a voice.
What started me on this post today? One word: Ardmore.
Once again Ardmore is embroiled in controversy over development. Carl Dranoff’s hideous behemoth of a project to be precise. Ardmore needed a train station and what it has suffered through now for way too many years is the emperor’s new clothes of ill advised development projects and plans. And developer driven zoning overlays. And lots and lots of question over the use of public funds. In a nutshell, Lower Merion Township continues to be a shining example of what not to do (and the need for term limits in local government.)
A civic group has filed a lawsuit against the governor of Pennsylvania, the Montgomery County Redevelopment Authority and Lower Merion Township over a redevelopment project in Ardmore, saying that it is a “misappropriation of millions of dollars of public funds” for private use.
The Save Ardmore Coalition announced last week that it was filing suit in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court. The issue at hand: $10.5 million in state grant funds set aside for One Ardmore Place, a proposed mixed-use development with apartments, retail and public parking.
Currently, the site is a parking lot. The civic group argues that the grant funds were supposed to be used for the Ardmore Train Station.
“We testified many times before the Lower Merion Township Board of Commissioners and we were mocked. We brought petitions signed by residents only to see them disregarded,” said SAC President Philip Browndeis
I am no longer part of Save Ardmore Coaltion or in the executive branch of the group. I resigned in the spring of 2011 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And then when that was all over with I moved. To Chester County.
So to say I had no idea this was going to happen next is an understatement. When this news broke my phone and email started going crazy. “Why is this happening?” “What is going on?” “Why are you doing this?”
News flash: Alice doesn’t live in Ardmore any more. There is a new crew of people with some original folks doing this. Contact Save Ardmore Coalition President Philip Browndeis at 267.250.2121 or email him at email@example.com if you have questions.)
My personal opinion is I understand why new Save Ardmore Coalition has done this, but what I don’t understand is the timing of it. Why wasn’t this done a few years ago? And of course there is the other thing: residents can do whatever they think necessary to preserve their community but will they ever truly achieve their goals if they do not change the faces of who govern them? As in when are they going to vote the bums out?
I was in Ardmore a few weeks ago for a funeral viewing. I had not been in easily over a year. The town looks run down and shabby and the public trash cans in front of the township were overflowing with trash. It all looked well…depressed. And that is the effect of all the grand plans of developers, politics, and local government: inertia.
Something needs to happen in Ardmore. I still don’t think it is “One Ardmore Place” because it is way out of touch with the reality of a small main street oriented town. It lacks human scale and design and if it gets built it’s 8 stories in small building main street downtown Ardmore will make Eastside Flats in Malvern Borough look good.
People like to say I am anti-development. I am actually anti bad plans. And every plan no matter where it is located looks the same these days. Homogenous and out of place and scale. The plans are presented where they look like they are situated in the Elysian Fields.
What is going on in Ardmore is going on all over Pennsylvania. Who knows when the madness will stop. Which is why I would rather cook, garden, treasure hunt and photograph butterflies. But I still believe people should be more active where they live.
Your eyes do not deceive you. This is indeed a photo taken Monday of a parking lot resembling an obstacle course. This parking lot is not in Chester County thank goodness, the location is Ardmore, Pennsylvania. In Lower Merion Township where West Chester’s former borough manager Ernie McNeely is now the Township Manager.
The Junior League of Philadelphia is doing a huge renovation project at the thrift shop and headquarters in Ardmore. I applaud them for all the good works they have done for decades, but they are being astoundingly dad neighbors now.
Ardmore is a town that suffers from parking issues chronically. So if you add a construction project where construction vehicles park every which way and dumpsters get put and left in thru lanes for very tight parking lots, it creates a driving hazard and an impediment to small businesses. Believe it or not, close to that dumpster out of the sight line of the photo is an outdoor dining space for a small café. I can’t imagine they have much business with a giant dumpster RIGHT there.
One of my closest friends owns a store that you literally cannot get to through this parking lot a lot of the time right now because of these construction vehicles. So if customers and suppliers can’t reach the stores and store owners and employees are having a hard time, how are small businesses coping? The answer is not really well and it’s just not fair. (I also have to note that many of these buildings have apartments and office suites above them and all of those people are having a hard time too)
Why can’t the Junior League find other parking close by for the construction vehicles? Why does it seem like they are getting preferential treatment and everyone is letting them get away with murder in the parking lot? Other businesses can’t stop being in business because the Junior League is renovating their building.
Don’t misunderstand me, the building they (The Junior League) are in has been long in need of renovation, it’s kind of a pit, but they should be more considerate of their neighbors and they aren’t. If there are projects which have to block portions of the parking lot at times during this project (which keeps occurring), why not start it a little earlier in the morning before businesses open or why not provide neighboring businesses advance notice that the parking lot will be blocked on certain dates for certain amounts of time?
I used to be a big fan of the Junior League of Philadelphia, and hopefully someday I will be able to be once again. But right now they are simply a nonprofit behaving badly. Think of this post as #dogshaming of a charitable organization. Somehow I don’t think when Mary Harriman founded the Junior League in 1901 being a bad neighbor was part of her plan.
This is yet another reason why I am glad I no longer live on the Main Line. I would however love to be able to navigate this parking lot safely so I can patronize my friend’s business. I used to donate to the Junior League for their shop once in a while and I never will again after this.