Where is The Diving Lady of the Starlite Motel? And when will she return to the springboard?
The iconic neon sign that fronted the east Mesa landmark for 50 years came crashing down during a severe October 2010 thunderstorm. It’s nearly restored — about ready to go back up — yet it remains a lady in waiting.
The 78-foot tall sign underwent an extreme makeover by Larry Graham of Graham’s Electric and Neon sign specialists in Mesa this past year. But about $30,000 more is needed so the sign can be returned to her familiar location.
During a year of fundraising for the sign, the Mesa Preservation Foundation has raised slightly more than $90,000 of the $120,000 needed to reaffix the three Diving Lady figures in various stages of a springboard dive and the 6.5-feet letters spelling out “motel.” However, expenses need to be covered before the figures can be put back in place.
Once visible from miles away, beckoning travelers to the roadside motel, the Diving Lady — for now — remains an image in books, photo exhibits, on canvas, and T-shirts. Now, it’s also available in a limited edition print.
In the latest development in the sign’s restoration efforts, New York-based artist Mary Anne Erickson — known for her passion of chronicling the decline of post-World War II-era Americana and vanishing quirky roadside culture over the last 30 years — has produced 50 limited edition prints of her original 2007 oil painting of the Diving Lady. Erickson, who also has done paintings of Ted and Alice Sliger’s Buckhorn Mineral Baths and cottages in east Mesa, said she sold the original Diving Lady painting to one of the top executives of Netflix, who grew up in the Valley but now lives in California.
Erickson now is selling the 13-by-19-inch limited edition prints for $275 and is donating $100 from each sale to the Mesa Preservation Foundation for the sign’s preservation efforts.
Erickson said she first saw the Diving Lady in 2005 when she was visiting family. Her in-laws, Al and Doris Erickson, live in Mesa’s Leisure World community, while Sue and Rod Lily, her brother- and sister-in-law, also live in Mesa.
“One day, I borrowed their car and took a drive down Main Street, the old Apache Trail,” Erickson said. “When I saw the Diving Lady, I freaked out, screeched the tires and got out and started taking pictures. Seeing the sign was a wonderful find for what I do. It was so tragic and upsetting to hear that it had fallen, but heartwarming to know that an organization formed to help save it. It sounds like they have used all their connections to get as far as they could on the restoration.”
Erickson said she was last in Mesa in January when she saw that the “motel” letters had been put back in place and contacted the Mesa Preservation Foundation to offer her help.
“We’re thrilled to be working with Mary Anne Erickson, and that she is helping out our cause,” said Vic Linoff, president of the Mesa Preservation Foundation. “This gives a chance for people to own a very limited edition print. This project has taken longer than what we thought, and these are hard economic times. As soon as we get the last dollar and donations put us over the top, the Diving Lady will go back up.”
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