Summer already is a month old, and one of Mesa’s leading ladies has not been able to take a dip into the pool, much less do what she’s best known for — take a dive.
The Diving Lady, the iconic neon sign that fronted the Starlite Motel, 2710 E. Main St., for 50 years, will eventually return to her perch, but for now, she remains a lady in waiting.
The Mesa Preservation Foundation, the nonprofit group spearheading the fundraising efforts for her restoration, still needs $25,000 to get her back up on the springboard next to the 6.5-feet-high letters that spell out MOTEL.
The 78-foot high sign, which features a swimsuit-clad lady in three stages of a springboard dive lighting up as she makes a splash into the water (really, a squiggly silver neon line resembling water), was nearly destroyed during a severe thunderstorm in October 2010 when heavy winds caused her to come crashing down onto the concrete parking lot of the motel.
Soon after her fall, history buffs sprang into action and got efforts under way to restore the sign, recruiting Larry Graham of Graham’s Electric and Electric Sign Specialists in Mesa and raising money through local benefits and a national fundraising drive that is seeking sponsorship from a major company or organization.
Once visible from miles away, beckoning travelers to the roadside motel, the Diving Lady — for now — remains an image in books, photo exhibits, on canvas, and T-shirts and limited edition prints.
During more than a year of fundraising for the sign, the Mesa Preservation Foundation has raised about $100,000 of the $125,000 needed to reaffix the three Diving Lady figures and the letters.
“We’re getting closer to getting her back up, but it always seems like when you get this close, it takes a little longer,” said Vic Linoff, president of the Mesa Preservation Foundation. “The amount of $25,000 doesn’t seem like a lot, but when that’s the last amount that needs to be raised, it seems to take forever. We just need for donations to keep coming in
One of the three pieces of the Diving Lady sign was at Mesa’s Superstition Springs Mall on display in an empty store space and the other two were on display in an empty store space at Mesa’s Fiesta Mall, but they have since been removed and are in storage at Graham’s Electric and Neon Sign Specialists.
A crane would be needed to put the signs in place after the remainder of the funds are raised.
“You always think things are going to go quicker than what they do, but we’re happy with the results,” Larry Graham said. “It was a fun project, a costly project, but I hope to get to do more of them in the future.”
In a recent development in the sign’s restoration efforts, New York-based artist Mary Anne Erickson — known for her passion of chronicling the decline of post-World War II-era Americana and vanishing quirky roadside culture over the last 30 years — has produced 50 limited edition prints of her original 2007 oil painting of the Diving Lady. Erickson, who also has done paintings of Ted and Alice Sliger’s Buckhorn Mineral Baths and cottages in east Mesa, said she sold the original Diving Lady painting to one of the top executives of Netflix, who grew up in the Valley but now lives in California.
Erickson now is selling the 13-by-19-inch limited edition prints for $275 and is donating $100 from each sale to the Mesa Preservation Foundation for the sign’s preservation efforts.
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