City’s mural depicts sporting history
PUNTA GORDA — To promote this city as an elite sporting destination in the early part of the past century, the railroad tycoons who built the Punta Gorda Hotel invited the world’s best athletes to compete in rowing, tennis, golf and other sports.
This month, an artist began depicting that legacy by painting a mural in a fitting place — a block wall around a tennis court at the Punta Gorda Club fitness spa, 2905 Tamiami Trail.
The artist, David Lackey of Englewood, was commissioned by the Punta Gorda Mural Society to paint the society’s 25th mural. Lackey, a semi-retired artist from Michigan, began dabbing purple paint to set the background tone on the wall last week. His rendering shows a man rowing a boat with the Punta Gorda Hotel on the skyline. He will later paint other images on other wall sections. They’ll depict people playing tennis and golf and hunting.
“We wanted the mural to honor sports used to build, enhance and promote the city of Punta Gorda,” said Ron Norsell, society president. “We’re trying to preserve history and have it extend into the 21st century.”
That legacy had humble beginnings, he said. The Florida Southern Railroad’s Punta Gorda station master promoted an annual scuwlling competition on Charlotte Harbor between 1870-80, according to Norsell. The event attracted the biggest sculling names in the world.
The Vanderbilt and Collier families later purchased the hotel and renamed it Charlotte Harbor Hotel, and built a tennis court. The hotel would invite star athletes to travel by rail car for tennis competitions — all expenses paid.
Such exhibitions would draw people like the Rockefellers, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison and other tycoons from as far as Europe.
“The rich and famous who would come here were the creme de la creme of the world,” Norsell said. “If Vanderbilt invited you to stay in his Punta Gorda Hotel, there was a certain prestige about that.”
Honoring that history means sticking to the highest artistic standards, Norsell said. That’s where Lackey comes in. He was selected for the mural because his renderings were the best, Norsell.
“The renderings really create the curiosity,” Norsell said.
A professional landscape and portrait painter, Lackey moved to Englewood when he retired two years ago to be near a brother who has lived in the area for a decade. Lackey, however, continues to paint and was recently awarded an honorable mention for a landscape in a Sarasota gallery’s contest.
“There’s a lot of arts and a lot of places to show your work,” he said.
He painted his first mural in Clio, Mich. It depicted a 1950s farm scene. Funded with a state grant for the arts, the mural was based on a photo of Lackey’s grandparents.
Later, Lackey was commissioned to paint a more serious mural on a triangular wall in a church in Midland, Mich. The congregation wanted a way to memorialize a beloved member, Fran Beeman, who had been murdered.
“A mentally unstable man killed her and two other women who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Lackey.
To express that loss, Lackley first photographed Midland residents of different races, ages and sexes. Their faces formed the background in Beeman’s portrait.
Lackey said he was inspired to apply to paint for the mural society after he and his brother took a drive around Punta Gorda.
“I was just really impressed with the number and the quality of the murals,” he said. “I said, ‘Wow. I’d really like to be a part of this.’”
Norsell said the call came at “just the right time.” Board members were just beginning to review submittals for the sports mural.
And Lackey’s selection is now history.