Two down, and one more to go before all three diving lady portions of Mesa’s iconic neon sign are restored and prepared to make a splash.
The top portion of the 78-foot tall sign that fronted the Starlite Motel at 2710 E. Main St. for 50 years recently has been restored and now is being prepared for display in east Mesa’s Superstition Springs Center mall. It will mark the second portion of the sign that is being displayed in Mesa. The second of the three diving ladies currently is on display on the second floor of Mesa’s Fiesta Mall near Macy’s.
The Diving Lady neon sign came crashing down into the motel parking lot during a thunderstorm Oct. 5 when a weakened welding point that had been previously repaired snapped.
The top portion of the sign, showing a diving lady in a tucked position before stretching out into a springboard dive, was most heavily damaged and her head had to be replaced, said Larry Graham, owner of Graham’s Neon in Mesa, who is among three full-time workers restoring the sign for the motel’s owners and the Mesa Preservation Foundation. The restoration of that portion of the sign took 2 1/2 weeks and cost about $4,000, according to Graham. So far about $20,000 has been spent on restoring two portions of the sign, close to a third of the estimated $65,000 cost it will take to repair all of it.
“The top part of the sign suffered the most damage and her head was pretty deteriorated because of the rain that had settled inside of her through the years,” Graham said. “We made her a new one and drilled some holes in her head so when it rains, the water will drain out. We also gave her some new fingers since the ones on her hands were deteriorated, too.”
The sign is on track to be completely restored and rededicated by the first anniversary of its fall. Work is under way on the third portion of the sign. Another goal is to get the sign placed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks since Mesa has a rich history in the region’s neon sign industry, and many of the 1950s and ’60s-era signs still dot motels and businesses along Main Street.
The restoration work began in early February after Bob Patel and his son, Minal, the owners of the Starlite, received a $10,000 insurance check to help cover the costs of the sign. The Patels turned over the check to the Mesa Preservation Foundation.
In addition, the Scottsdale office of Hunt Construction is donating the pole for the sign, an estimated $12,000 value. 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.
Most recently, $250 was donated to the Mesa Preservation Foundation from the Society of Commercial Archeology, which named two Mesa sites among the 10 most endangered roadside places. The Buckhorn Baths came in fourth on the list and the Diving Lady came in fifth.
“Restoring it has been a fun project,” Graham said. “They don’t make signs like this anymore. It’s looking good. Everyone is getting excited.”
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