After Storm, Neon Sign Will Be Restored

An iconic neon sign in Mesa, Ariz., was blown to the ground during a severe windstorm this fall. The nationally recognized sign, known as the "Diving Lady," had been perched above the Starlite Motel's parking lot for the past 50 years. Today it is in pieces, its neon tubing destroyed.

Built in 1960 by sign maker Paul Millet, who died several years ago, the animated neon sign stands 78 feet tall and features three scenes of a woman diving into a pool.

This month the Mesa Preservation Foundation is working to raise enough money—between $60,000 and $70,000—to restore the Diving Lady, rumored to be modeled after Marilyn Monroe.

"We've gained tons of public support already," says Ron Peters, one of the foundation's directors. To start, Erik Masitis of Phoenix-based EJM Engineering has donated his services to help rebuild the pole that was sheared in half during the Oct. 5 storm. A local T-shirt company has printed Diving Lady shirts and will donate 15 percent of its profits toward the sign's repair, and an Arizona State University student has agreed to hand-paint the sign to match its current faded colors. "We don't want it to look brand spanking new," Peters says, noting that the sign will be restored to its pre-storm look rather than its original appearance.

The metal pieces of the Diving Lady sign are now in the hands of Larry Graham of the local Graham's Neons. Graham, who was mentored by Millet, is currently working closely with Peters and Vic Linoff, president of the foundation, to restore the sign. "It's just a wacky piece," Graham says. "It's huge: one letter is about six feet tall. You never see anything like it anymore, and people love it."

The Starlite Motel opened in 1958 and is still in operation. Current owner Bob Patel has given the foundation authority to restore the sign and will donate $8,000 in insurance money toward that effort, according to Linoff.

Before the Diving Lady sign can be reinstalled, the foundation must secure necessary permits from the city. "We just need the permits approved. We do have the city's support, though, so it's really just a formality," Peters says. In fact, the city is waiving the permit fees.

Once all the paperwork goes through Graham believes the repairs will take about three months, and Linoff is hoping for a big reinstallation ceremony come next spring. "There's been national inquiry about this sign, and once it's up we're hoping to get it on the National Register. These landmarks don't belong to a community; they belong to a larger audience." 

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