Lakeland’s New Wonderland of Shopping Pleasure

Two famous Lakeland features arrived in 1957. Queen Elizabeth donated a pair of swans to the city. They were a breeding pair. A walk around Lake Morton will testify how well that program turned out.

1957 was the year the Southgate arch first flew over South Florida. We should be glad there wasn’t a pair and arches don’t breed. At least they don’t in the wild.

flyingsaucerWith the headline “Million Dollar Center Launched” the shopping center was announced in the Sunday Lakeland Ledger on April 7. Promised to be ready before “Christmastime” the shopping mecca would open on November 19th. George Jenkins and Publix were the driving force behind the center, but 15 other area shops would sign on to establish shopping on the outskirts of South Lakeland.

Joe Blanton, the Publix Vice-President of Real Estate, is credited with the shopping center’s most memorable feature — the three-legged arch. Designed by architects Donovan Dean and Associates, the “parabolic arch with flying buttresses” was prominent in the Ledger’s article. The page editor deemed it the “shopping center’s ‘flying saucer’ arcade.” Stats were reeled off: the center was longer than an 85-story building was tall, parking for 900, the arch sported wings 36 feet over the sidewalk, and storefront widths for each store listed. The largest was Publix with 170′ (including the grocer’s 30′ “Danish Bakery”), followed closely by Grant’s at 142′. Other stores included a drug store, hardware, dry cleaners, show store, furniture shop, a toy store, and Woolworth’s – third largest with 110′ storefront. Save the hardware and Publix, none of the other stores survive in the shopping center 52 years later.

Aerial view of the Southgate Shopping Center 1957

Southgate Lakeland 1957

November 19, 1957

Scanning the paper on the evening of November 19, ’57, the Silver Moon Drive-In ad asked “Have you seen… ‘I Was a Teenage Werewolf’ and ‘Invasion of the Saucer Men’? ” The drive-in wasn’t afraid to goad customers: “If you haven’t you’re chicken.” The Polk Theater reminded Lakelanders they had only two more days to see “Jailhouse Rock” before the film was replaced with “18 & Anxious.”

Southgate opened for business on November 19th with great fanfare. George Jenkins was on hand, along with the Lakeland Acting Mayor William Hollis, to cut the ribbon on the 37th Publix. The evening Lakeland Ledger included a photo of the packed parking lot at Southgate. The new center was a success on opening day. Publix found the spot profitable. The location was the fourth in Lakeland and the only one of the four still in operation at the same site. (As an aside: Publix reported 1361 associates company-wide and $77 million in sales for 1957. For 2008 the company reported over 138,000 employees and $23.9 billion in sales for 2008.)

shoppingpleasureThose familiar with grocery prices today might find the ’57 Publix ads interesting. Featuring the clip-art style popular at the time the grand opening sale ads sported the headline “Lakeland’s NEW wonderland of shopping pleasure.” Included was a short poem that doesn’t age as well as the headline:

“Sound the trumpets,” cried the Queen
“This market’s the finest I’ve ever seen.
Pleasant surroundings and selections galore,
I’m ever so happy they built this store!”

pricespork loin roast and center cut pork chops were the main features at Publix on opening day. Frozen food, dairy, candy, and health & beauty products also were on special.

laundrybasketOpening day’s giveaway was a free laundry basket for all those with purchases of $7 or more. (Not to leave out the other three Lakeland stores, the ad promised the basket special was available at all Lakeland stores. That didn’t seem to be true for the new grocery’s second day special — a free silver dollar for purchases of $7 or more.)

danishbakeryNext door at the Danish Bakery the featured item was a dozen Cinnamon Rolls for 29 cents.

October 1, 2009

The rebuilt Southgate Publix opens Thursday morning. On Wednesday, we’ll have sneak-peek photos of the interior and both helpful and trivial facts about the revitalized location.

Like: At 47,380 square feet, the new store will be around the size of a new Publix location, but won’t include a bank or liquor store. However, it will continue drug delivery as Wolfson’s Drugs moves across South Florida into the Publix facility. The old store’s marble was recycled for the new store, but the old mural couldn’t be saved.

And the freebie that Publix plans to give the first few hundred customers on Thursday? You can find that information on Wednesday.

Photo by the Lakeland Ledger, 1957 — Advertisements by Publix