The rededication of an East Valley icon is expected to happen in less than a month.
The restoration of the Diving Lady neon sign that fronted the Starlite Motel in east Mesa for 50 years is nearly complete and signs of its return are already apparent. The sign, high above the motel property, located at 2710 E. Main Street, came crashing down during a severe thunderstorm on Oct. 5, 2010.
Late last month, the five neon letters spelling out "M-O-T-E-L" were hung by a crane with care next to where the Diving Lady will re-emerge in three stages of a springboard dive. The Diving Lady was designed by Stanley Russon and manufactured by the late Paul Millett who owned Millett Signs in Mesa and produced numerous neon signs that still are functioning throughout the region.
The dimensions of the sign's components - which appear larger on the ground than they appear high in the sky before one's eyes - come from an era when the kitschy eye-catchers were not considered so much art, but rather used more as a way for businesses to advertise from the road.
Millett Signs also manufactured such neon masterpieces such as the famed Bill Johnson's restaurant signs featuring a large steer and its horns with the slogan, "Let's Eat!" as well as the sign for Jack Adams' Alligator Farm featuring a large neon green alligator next to the Starlite and the 35-foot high neon cowboy with a lasso at the Round-Up Drive-in once at East Thomas Road and 65th Street in south Scottsdale.
But the Diving Lady is nationally known, and has been featured in books and magazines - contributing to her lasting power.
Each of the Starlite's motel letters is 6.5-feet tall and weighs about 250 pounds. On Dec. 22, the letters were connected to the sign's new 78-foot-high pole. The original one came crashing down onto the motel's parking lot during the storm when a once-repaired welding point snapped. A new pole made possible through a donation of the Scottsdale office of Hunt Construction was installed in recent months.
Larry Graham, owner of Graham's Neon and Electric Sign Specialists in Mesa, which has been overseeing the sign's restoration for the Mesa Preservation Foundation is fine-tuning the inner workings of the Diving Lady, connecting circuits and flashers.
"There's a whole lot to it," Graham said. "It's been a little tricky, but we're getting it. We had to do some reconstruction on the inside of the signs. We wanted to make sure everything was done right so the diving ladies would be stronger and there'd be less of a chance of mechanical problems in the future."
The restoration costs of the Diving Lady were expected to tally about $100,000, but thanks to fundraisers and donations throughout the course of the one-year restoration project, more than half of that amount has been raised.
However, more donations are needed to help cover the remaining costs of about $30,000, said Mesa Preservation Foundation president Vic Linoff, who also oversees the Mesa Foundation's Facebook page where the sign's restoration progress is chronicled.
Although the return of the Diving Lady will be reason to celebrate for history buffs and people who love seeing her from far-away vantage points, Bob Patel and his son, Minal - the Starlite's owners - also hope her notoriety will make more of a permanent splash.
Preservationists also hope to have the sign placed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks in the future as another lasting monument to Arizona's historic roots of neon signs that are comparable to those along historic Route 66.
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