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Lakeland art lovers save historic Publix mural

Posted at 6:32 PM, Sep 19, 2018

LAKELAND, Fla. — Art lovers in Lakeland are going the extra mile to save a mural painted more than half a century ago.

The Grove Park Publix, built in the early 1960’s is being demolished this week after the owners decided to rebuild using a more modern building.

ABC Action News found many people walking by, staring and visiting the construction site, including longtime shoppers, Baron and Nancy Brown. 

“We are kind of reminiscing about Publix,” Baron Brown said.

Mr. Brown had driven his 84-year-old mother, Nancy, over to the site to see how the work was coming along.

Nancy said she has shopped the Grove Park Publix for years, only living a mile away from the shopping center.

“It’s all of a sudden it’s knocked down so quickly,” Ms. Brown said.

Lakeland, the original area where Publix was born, does have a certain sentiment with the store, according to the original founder’s grandson, Gregory Fancelli. 

“There’s a strong attachment, strong love to the company here,” Fancelli said.

He says he splits his time between Lakeland and other living arrangements to continue his local work in the area.

Fancelli says in the early 1960’s, Patty Mills and her husband were hired to paint murals on the side of Publix’s as a cheaper and more unique way to decorate the grocery stores.

There are about 200 murals displayed on Publix stores throughout Florida, mainly painted between the 60’s and early 80’s.

A painted tile mural used to be displayed on the front of the Grove Park Publix before it was painted over.

Fancelli and others have fought to keep this mural and another of Mills’ mosaics preserved as a nod to Publix’s and Lakeland’s history.

“There’s almost a cult following of all of these relics from the past,” Fancelli said.

The group, Prestige Worldwide Group in Lakeland, as well as Fancelli, were able to unveil the painted tile, restore it to its original beauty and ultimately take it down before demolition began on the grocery store along Bartow Road. 

The entire process, Fancelli says, will cost under $10,000.

Earlier this year, the same group made noise after mosaic tile was painted over at the Searstown Publix.

Fancelli says that mosaic will remain hidden under the paint, as a way to preserve the artwork, until it’s decided what will be done with it.

As for the mural now in pieces and carefully stowed away, it will likely be put on display in downtown Lakeland in the near future.

“It’s just a part of what goes on in our community and what changes over the years,” Nancy Brown said.