One landmark to another: Restaurant helps raise money for Diving Lady sign - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

One landmark to another: Restaurant helps raise money for Diving Lady sign

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Posted: Tuesday, April 5, 2011 1:04 pm | Updated: 5:41 pm, Wed Jun 29, 2011.

The table is set for one landmark in the city to help another one.

The Landmark Restaurant, at 809 W. Main Street in Mesa, which is famous for its salad bar and historic photographs and paintings covering its walls, is preparing to donate part of the proceeds from its popular chicken entrees sold for the next two weeks to help restore the Starlite Motel's Diving Lady iconic neon sign.

The Landmark Restaurant's fundraising efforts will last during lunch and dinner Wednesday through April 20. The Landmark has been owned by history buffs Don and Candy Ellis since 1981.

The 78-foot sign, featuring a lady in three stages of a springboard dive and five letters spelling out MOTEL, fronted the Starlite, at 2710 E. Main Street, for 50 years. It came crashing down during a violent thunderstorm on Oct. 5 when a weakened welding point on its pole snapped. The Diving Lady plunged onto the motel's concrete parking lot, smashing all of its neon and heavily damaging the sign.

The proceeds from the meals sold at the Landmark will be forwarded to the Mesa Preservation Foundation, a nonprofit group overseeing the fundraising efforts for the restoration of the sign, which dates to an era of roadside lodging when families traveled long distances by car.

"It's kinda cool," Michelle Hunsaker, an Arizona native who works as an assistant manager at The Landmark, said of the sign. "It's unique and old and something you just don't see anymore. You could see her from far away. She would light up, take a dive and come back up again for another dive."

In this month's issue of Arizona Highways Magazine, Sedona-based photographer Larry Lindahl pays homage to the Diving Lady by noting, "She would first appear gracefully folded at the waist, then she'd blink out, light up again straight as an arrow, blink out and reappear splashing into neon water with perfectly pointed fingertips."

Lindahl also wrote an essay about the diving lady, which is on the Arizona Highways blog at http://arizonahighways.wordpress.com.

So far, about half of the estimated $65,000 costs to repair the sign have been raised, including a $10,000 donation for the pole from the Scottsdale office of Hunt Construction; $6,000 from Larry Graham, owner of Graham's Neon and Electric Signs in Mesa, which is repairing the sign; and a $2,500 Rich Goewey Community Services grant from the The Rio Salado Architect Foundation. The foundation supports historical architecture.

Last month, the second of three Diving Lady segments was transported to Mesa's Fiesta Mall, where it is on display in a vacant store window on the mall's second floor between Macy's and Sears surrounded by posters telling the history of the sign, how it was damaged and how it is being restored. Pieces of the diving lady sign that could not be repaired also are included in the display to show a "before and after" perspective.

Preservationists hope to rededicate the sign in front of the hotel later this year on Oct. 5, the one-year anniversary of its fall.

Work currently is being done on the first segement of the Diving Lady, which is in the crouched position. Plans are under way to display that portion of the sign at Superstition Springs Mall, said Vic Linoff, president of the Mesa Preservation Foundation.

"Each piece of the sign is unique," Linoff said. "There's a lot of work that still needs to be done, and a lot of work will be done on it that people won't even see on the inside of it. There will be light aluminum frames inside the sign so the weight of it won't put a lot of stress on the pole. The sign also had a significant amount of damage from age before it fell. We're not just fixing dents and dings; we're replacing aged parts as well."

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