The iconic 70-foot-tall arch at Southgate Shopping Center has been attracting more attention ever since LED light strands were added last year, recreating the classic neon look of the 1950s-era plaza. The neon had been dark for 20 years, resulting in the sign being illuminated by floodlights.

A shot of the arch reflected in a puddle impressed the three judges who unanimously declared it the winner of LkldNow’s Scene in Lkld photo contest last winter.

The photo by Hannah Hallock, a 22-year-old nursing student at Southeastern University, was also popular with LkldNow readers, receiving the second-highest number of votes when the 158 contest entries were put up for a vote during the first two weeks of December.

“The Southgate Shopping Center is indeed a national treasure,” said local artist Alison LaMons, who specializes in nostalgic paintings of neon signage “It’s a real relic of the 20th century.”

Alison LaMons: Southgate Shopping Center (2014) Watercolor on Paper. | Courtesy Alison LaMons

“Modern signage lacks that electric thread of buzzing liquid fire,” and without the 1.5 inches of clearance from the surface, it’s not a perfect match, according to LaMons, but she does appreciate the new lights. “All in all, the newest LEDs look closer to old-school neon tubing every day.”

“I’m having a love affair with this sign right now,” photographer Emily Mort recently told LKLD Haven magazine. “I’m just obsessed with it,” said Mort, the lenswoman behind the popular LKLDlense Instagram profile. LKLD Haven magazine had used Mort’s photo of the arch as its March cover.

The sign was re-lit with 1,125 feet of FloppyFlex, a neon replacement made with LED strands. The “Southgate” portion needed 571 feet, while the wings and arch used 554 feet. The new lights also change colors seasonally; for example, it was red for Valentine’s Day; red, white, and blue for Independence Day; and red and green for Christmas.

“We know it’s an icon and we definitely want to make sure it’s done right,” Stephanie Carten told The Ledger. Carten is a marketing manager for Crossman and Company, the owner of the shopping center.

Architect Donovan Dean designed the Southgate Shopping Center and its 70-foot tall 67-ton Googie-style arch. The plaza opened in 1957 at what was then Lakeland’s fringes. The $1 million shopping center ushered the southward expansion and the busy South Florida Avenue residents know today.

Southgate Shopping center made its way into cinema in “Cocoon” (1985), “Edward Scissorhands” (1990), and “The One and Only Ivan” (2020).

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Jason is an intern from Florida Polytechnic University.

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