Mesa mall barbecue to raise funds for 'Diving Lady' sign restoration - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Mesa mall barbecue to raise funds for 'Diving Lady' sign restoration

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Posted: Tuesday, August 9, 2011 12:25 pm | Updated: 12:39 am, Wed Aug 10, 2011.

The space that once housed the Victoria’s Secret lingerie store inside Mesa’s Fiesta Mall soon will have a famous figure modeling her old one-piece bathing suit on a new svelte and lighter body.

A portion of the “Diving Lady,” the iconic neon sign from a Mesa motel, will be placed inside the former Victoria’s Secret store space to raise awareness of her journey and soon will feature a fundraising push to make the 50-year-old beauty complete.

The 78-foot-high neon sign that fronted the Starlite Motel at 2710 E. Main St. for half a century came crashing down during a severe thunderstorm Oct. 5, and was heavily damaged. Over the last several months she has undergone an extreme makeover at Graham’s Neon and Electric Sign Specialists in Mesa.

The sign, which is known nationwide and has been featured in books about the art of neon signs and photo exhibits, features a diving lady in three stages of a springboard dive beside 6 1/2 feet-high letters that spell out M-O-T-E-L.

The Mesa Preservation Foundation, which is overseeing the restoration efforts for the sign, is hosting a fundraiser inside the former Victoria’s Secret from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Sept. 13. She will be decked out in an aqua-green swimsuit, blond hair and ruby red lips with a blue neon splash at her fingertips to light up and appear as if she’s hitting the water.

For inquiring minds, her measurements are a 66-inch bust, a 46-inch waist and 55.5-inch hips for the 15.5-foot-tall woman.

Vic Linoff, president of the Mesa Preservation Foundation, marveled at the Diving Lady’s measurements and the progress she has made under Larry Graham’s supervision after an outpouring of public support to save her.

“I actually measured her, and she’s nearly perfect,” Linoff said. “I won’t reveal her weight, though, but she went on a diet. By using state-of-the-art technology, she is much lighter than she used to be. Her skeleton now is more aluminum than iron, making her more resistant to storms when she goes back up.”

Tickets for the event are $35 in advance and $40 at the door, which includes an assortment of barbecue foods from Waldo’s Barbecue in Mesa that will be prepared on a smoker in the parking lot of the mall. A cash bar also will be available.

Members of the preservation group hope to move closer to covering the $38,000 that remains in repair costs.

“This will be a rare opportunity for people to see the Diving Lady up close and personal,” Linoff said. “It will be like a gallery setting where you can turn down the lights and it will resemble an art gallery with monumental structures. The store space is phenomenal. Later on, we might be able to put all three pieces of the Diving Lady in the same space and the letters spelling out ‘motel.’ There’s so many pieces of the puzzle to put together. We’re getting down to crunch time, but it’s all going to come together thanks to all the contributions and everyone dedicated to the project.”

The second of the three figures now is in a second floor space in Fiesta Mall near Sears; the first figure is on display in a store space at Mesa’s Superstition Springs Center near Macy’s.

The sign, which is similar to the neon signs in front of roadside lodges along Route 66 and served as beacon to families traveling long distances by car, is on track to be completely restored and rededicated by the first anniversary of her fall in front of the Starlite owned by Bob Patel and his son, Minal.

During its restoration process, individuals from throughout the nation have made donations to help with the project and organizations have made large contributions: The Patels received a $10,000 insurance check to help cover the costs of the sign and turned over the check to the Mesa Preservation Foundation. In addition, the Scottsdale office of Hunt Construction is donating the pole for the sign, which has been produced by Able Steel in Mesa, 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.

Electric sign specialist Graham said the restoration project has been an extensive one including new framing on the sign’s interior, new transformers and other parts of the sign to replace the Diving Lady’s face and hands, which had deteriorated with age.

When the sign is rededicated, it will require cranes to put it in place, he said.

“This project hasn’t been just welding and hanging,” Graham said, “but it’s also wiring it up so it’ll work right and look the way it did before it fell. It’s been fun, and it’s been a challenge. I’m looking forward to hanging it back up.”

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com

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