Friday, April 23, 2010

Lakeland's Southgate arch

I recently re-watched the Tim Burton film Edward Scissorhands, which was filmed in Florida, and was thrilled to see the scene at Lakeland's Southgate Shopping Center. So I was excited to find out that it was just down the road from where I was staying on a recent trip to Lakeland. I had planned to do a Lakeland "photo safari" with my brother, but the weather did not cooperate. But I stopped at the 1957 shopping center to photograph their monumental signage, despite the rain.

Called a "flying saucer arcade" by the Lakeland Ledger, the shopping center's giant arch is mammoth in scale and has a huge support buttress behind it that lands in a neat little courtyard. In a thoroughly written article in the Fall 2001 SCA Journal, author Kim Hinder reports that the entire plaza cost over $1 million and an ad for its opening exclaimed "make plans now to rocket on down to help us celebrate the 'blast-off' of this 16 store galaxy."

The anchor store of the plaza was the Publix supermarket, and it was Publix founder George Jenkins who introduced many of the essential architectural elements we've come to associate with grocery stores today. Jenkins' innovations include "self-service meats and produce as well as groceries air conditioning, electric eye doors plate glass windows, 8-foot wide aisles," and perhaps most importantly, the idea to locate grocery stores in suburban shopping centers like the one in Lakeland.

Hinder reports that in 1956, supermarket design embraced the Exaggerated Modern style featuring "colossal canopies, parabolic arches, sign pylons, or pyramidal roofs" and the architect chosen to design in this style for Publix was Donovan Dean, the architect of the Southgate Shopping Center.

I first became aware of Dean through friends who live in a nearby Dean-designed house (future post.) According to an article in Reflections from Central Florida, Dean moved to Central Florida from Wisconsin in 1938, and eventually grew his architectural firm to have offices in Lakleand, Orlando, Cocoa and Winter Haven. Notable buildings he designed in the area include the Sentinel Star (Orlando Sentinel) building, St. James Catholic Church (currently undergoing restoration), and the corporate headquarters complex for Publix built in 1951. Below are some other buildings designed by Dean's firm, including some mid-century jewels, but none quite as grand as the Southgate Shopping Center.

The staff of one of Dean's offices, note the neon sign

Donovan Dean (love the pipe)

Greyhound bus station

I love how the signage accentuates the entrance

Publix Corporate headquarters

Typical Publix of the period, note the arch in the front

Archival images from Special Collections, Lakeland Public Library, Lakeland, FL


  1. Rick:

    The bottom Publix image reminds me of the old College Park Publix on Edgewater which was later demolished and rebuilt in a similar fashion. There's a great scene in the movie Parenthood with Keanu Reeves & his girlfriend at a photo developing booth in the parking lot (remember those?) w/ the big arrow like this one in the background.

    Bob Beatty

  2. Bob-In College Park I think they left the original sign out by the road. They managed to keep much of the spirit of the architecture of the old store. The best old Publix is now Colonial Hobby and Photo.

  3. I was in Lakeland a few weeks ago and had to stop and take pictures of this shopping center! The people I was with couldn't understand what was so special about an old strip mall, so I'm glad other people appreciate it! Thanks for the history!

  4. How fantastic it is that they never tore that wonderful sign down.

  5. If you aren't aware of this site, you will probably enjoy it:

    I love the whole futuristic design phase of the 1950s. It has always struck me as optimistic and able, fully reflecting the idea that America was on the move to advance its borders and that no frontier was an impossibility.

  6. Thanks for the site! It was new to me and it'll be a great reference!

  7. Dude i love that you did this lol i meet mr jenkins in my younger years and actually live in lakeland its kool but why do a photo safari here theirs nuthing to see

  8. That looks like a great place to go with some friends. It looks like there are a lot of shops in the area too. I wonder when I'll be in that area again.
    Bill |

  9. I took a picture today of the arch...just beautiful and so nostalgic!

  10. I can remember buying shoes at the Thom McCann shoe store there, in the courtyard area, in the late 60's. I was a teenager at the time. I am glad they have kept the arch all this time. It prompts lots of wondferful memories.