Southgate Getting Another Movie Makeover

Southgate Shopping Center, with its iconic arch, will become Big Top Shopping Mall and Video Arcade — but only for a day. The central courtyard and stores beneath it are being readied for a movie close-up on Thursday.

Walt Disney Pictures is shooting scenes for “The One and Only Ivan” Wednesday through Friday at four Lakeland locations, including Dobbins Park on Wednesday, Southgate on Thursday and also at Silver Moon Drive-In and a house on West Palm Drive.

Southgate’s arch and courtyard had its first brush with movie stardom when scenes for Tim Burton’s “Edward Scissorshands” were shot there in 1990. Merchants nearby say tourists still come to Southgate looking for the Scissorshands setting.

The Disney film being shot there this week is based on a Newberry Award-winning novel by Katherine Applegate about a gorilla that lives among people at a shopping mall. It mixes live-action sequences with computer-generated imagery.

Hence the green paint in the faux shopping center entrance that’s been built beneath the Southgate arch. The green will be used as the canvas for computer graphics.

Moviegoers will see the words “Big Top Mall” across the large arch, but the original 1957 Southgate lettering will remain untouched; the movie mall name will be applied with computer technology.

The Southgate courtyard’s redesign is being overseen by movie Production Designer Molly Hughes, who is known for her work as art director on three Harry Potter movies.

Dozens of workers have transformed the center of Southgate this week to match the 1970s through ’90s period of the film. Once filming has finished, they’ll restore it to its 2018 context. Among other things, they’ve:

  • Removed a large light pole and trees that would interrupt long shots of the arch.
  • Paved over 21st Century, blue-painted handicapped parking spaces and white stripes, then used gray paint speckles to make the new asphalt look old.
  • Temporarily removed business signs under the arch.
  • Remodeled the front of Marshall’s Jewelers into a Bowl a Rama entrance.
  • Repainted the sidewalk from Publix green to gray.
Southgate Arch
A light pole was temporarily removed from the island in the foreground.

Local businesses are benefitting by selling supplies and serving crew members, City Commissioner Michael Dunn noted at Monday’s City Commission meeting. Regarding the Southgate set, he said, “They’re building that and when it’s over, it’s going into the dumpster. While that might sound bad, that’s money being spent on plywood, 2-by-4s, whatever else right here in Lakeland.”

Dunn also said several businesses were asked to close but are being reimbursed more than they typically would make during those days.

Likewise, Dobbins Park is closed Wednesday to allow for filming. The sand volleball court there was outfitted with vintage playground equipment today.

“I guess we can do whatever we can to get more productions like that coming here to Lakeland,” Dunn said.

While the set at Southgate is scheduled to be scrapped, Dunn said the owner of a home on Palm Street where filming will take place will get to keep new windows, paint, a white picket fence and sod provided by the movie company.

On Thursday, watch for vintage autos around the Southgate set.

Filming is an international production. Shooting started near London around May 1 and continues in other locations, including British Columbia and the Orlando area.

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