For more than two years, an iconic neon sign has been missing in action, so to speak.
Instead, she simply has been a diving lady in waiting.
The 78-foot-high neon sign of a diving lady in three stages of a springboard dive that fronted the Starlite Motel at 2710 E. Main St. in east Mesa for 50 years was badly damaged when it fell during a severe thunderstorm in October 2010.
Now, after undergoing an extensive restoration process that has included more than $100,000 in numerous contributions from companies and individuals, the Diving Lady looks like new, but as in 2010 and 2011, 2012 ends as another year without the sign’s return.
Officials of the Mesa Preservation Foundation, which has overseen the restoration efforts for the Diving Lady, says it looks like 2013 finally will be the return of the sign that has become nationally known through books, photo exhibits, postcards and paintings.
But the catch? About $12,000 more is needed to seal the deal of getting the sign placed back up on the pole so the Diving Lady can again stand free and clear next to the large square letters that spell out: MOTEL. For about the last six months, all three portions of the Diving Lady have been stored inside Graham’s Neon and Electric Sign Specialists store in Mesa, which has done an extreme makeover on the sign.
“Although the sign has been out of the public view for quite some time, the important thing is that people haven’t forgotten about the Diving Lady,” said Vic Linoff, president of the Mesa Preservation Foundation. “So far, there’s been about 300 individuals who have contributed to the restoration efforts, individuals and organizations through monetary and in-kind contributions. Without them, we wouldn’t be where we’re at and this close to getting the sign back up. We believe we’re going to be able to get the sign back up in the early part of the year.”
The Diving Lady, which beckoned like a beacon to road-weary travelers during an era when families made long trips by car, could be seen from at least a mile away. The sign once fronted a swimming pool that has long been filled in.
Stanford Russon, 91, of Lehi, Utah, who used to work for Paul Millett of Millett Signs of Mesa, sketched the Diving Lady before it was put to metal.
Millett manufactured the sign as he did numerous iconic neon signs in the region such as the green alligator at Jack Adams’ Alligator Farm, once next to the Starlite; a 35-foot high cowboy with a lasso at the long gone Round-Up Drive-in on East Thomas Road and 60th Street in Scottsdale; and the familiar Bill Johnson’s Big Apple restaurant signs.
Millett is deceased, but Russon said he hopes to be present when the Diving Lady returns to the springboard.
Over the course of the sign’s restoration process, portions of it had been displayed at a number of places including Mesa’s Superstition Springs and Fiesta malls, but for the last few months, it has been stored at Larry Graham’s Electric and Neon Sign Specialists business in Mesa, where it underwent its extreme makeover.
Among the groups that have contributed to the sign’s restoration: the Scottsdale office of Hunt Construction; Abel Steel, which contributed a new heavy-duty pole (about a $10,000 value) to place the sign back up on; Lakeshore Music Productions; McCarthy Construction; D.L. Withers Construction; the Landmark Restaurant in Mesa; Southwest Ambulance; and Crescent Crown Distributing.
Early on, Bob Patel and his son, Minal, who own the Starlite, donated the $10,000 insurance check received for the sign, and the Rio Salado Architect Foundation also awarded the preservation foundation a $2,500 Rich Goewey Community Services grant to help with the project because of the sign’s historical significance.
Larry Graham, owner of Graham’s Electronic and Neon Sign Specialists, who also has donated numerous hours to the restoration project, said it was a great opportunity to work on a project such as the Diving Lady and he hopes that the notoriety will help him land similar restoration projects in the future.
“Once we complete the fundraising efforts to get the sign free and clear and get the sign back up, that two-year respite will be forgotten,” Linoff said.
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