While the pool, which once sat in the center of the courtyard of Mesa’s Starlite Motel, has long since been filled in, the Diving Lady will again plunge from her perch on Main Street this coming Tuesday.
“Our goal was if you didn’t know it fell, if you’d moved out of town and come back for a visit, you’d go, ‘ah, it’s still there,’” said Vic Linoff, president of the Mesa Preservation Foundation.
Tuesday evening at 6:50 p.m., with Mesa mayor Scott Smith throwing the switch, the neon, vertical sign will illuminate the city once again, just like has for decades before.
The original sign was damaged by an Oct. 5, 2010 storm — falling down into the parking lot below.
All of the sign’s lighted neon tubes shattered and most of the sheet metal was wrinkled, said Larry Graham, owner of Graham’s Neon, who helped restore the sign.
“The guy that taught me neon is the one who built it,” Graham said. “25 years ago, he pulled out the prints and showed me. I wish I had kept those,” he said laughing.
Graham had to do the restoration one piece at a time, working without plans, he said.
While the original colors may have been more saturated, the restoration decided to keep the now well known “faded” version, Linoff said.
“It’s the first thing you saw coming home from Globe in the 1960s,” reminisces Ron Peters, the project’s preservation architect and president of HistoricStreetscapes, of the historical sign.
When the motel was first built a half century before, only desert and cottonwoods surrounded the area, said Vic Linoff, president of the Mesa Preservation Foundation. Main Street was a highway at the time and the Diving Lady was the first sign — literally — that told Mesans they were almost home.
“It’s really the last of its kind — can’t do it again,” Peters said of the animated sign.
Mesa and the city council were instrumental in getting the lady back to her place of honor, Peters said. The city was willing to grandfather the animated sign, despite the current restrictions on signage in the city.
“It’s the last animated sign in the Valley,” Linoff said. “If a sign like this was made today, it would probably be LED.”
Neon signs, like the Diving Lady, is art that resembles historical Americana, Linoff said.
“It used to have a pool right over there,” said Linda Flick, a Mesa Preservation Foundation board member, gesturing to the rocky landscaping at the center of the motel courtyard.
“I know because I stayed here for month in 1964,” she said, with a smile. “I laid out by that pool every day.”
Flick’s family was waiting for base housing to open up after her father was transferred to Williams Field Air Force Base. The base is now Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport.
“The community said it was important,” Linoff said. “Our job was to facilitate it and make it happen.”
Restoration work has cost about $120,000, most of which has already been donated by community members and in-kind services, he said. Currently, the project still needs about $10,000 to be completely done.
“It’s been entirely paid in donations,” Linoff said.
Varying in size from $1 to $12,500, donations came from all over the country from current and former Mesa residents alike, he said.
The pole has now been reinforced and would take a disaster to fall again, Linoff said. The new pole sleeves the first 20 feet of the original pole and the rest of the nearly 80-foot sign is stronger.
“It’s not going anywhere,” he said.
On this past Wednesday evening, as the lights once again lit up the dusky sky in preparation for the April 2 formal relighting ceremony, cars honked and passersby waved.
As the lights lit up the dusky sky Wednesday night in preparation for the April 2 grand relighting, cars honked and passerby’s waved. One truck full of people pulled over, and out popped the camera phones
“Just the historic value — we’ve done more expensive work, but this is the most meaningful,” said Graham as he gazed up at the glowing sign. “When I’m dead and gone, this will still be here.”
Mesa’s ready for their Lady’s official return.
What: Mesa Mayor Scott Smith will throw the switch on the restored Diving Lady
When: Tuesday, April 2, 6:50 p.m.
Where: Starlite Motel, 2710 E. Main St.
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