Donations mount to restore Mesa motel's iconic neon sign - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

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Donations mount to restore Mesa motel's iconic neon sign

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Posted: Tuesday, December 21, 2010 2:30 pm

The iconic Diving Lady neon sign is poised to resurface at Mesa’s Starlite Motel after an outpouring of support from groups and individuals who miss seeing the 50-year-old landmark.

Thousands of dollars in materials and labor have been pledged, as have monetary donations to help cover the estimated $65,000 cost of repairing the fallen sign.

During a series of heavy thunderstorms throughout the Valley on Oct. 5, the nationally known Diving Lady at the Starlite Motel, 2710 E. Main St., came crashing down, and it looked as though she had made her final dive. The 78-foot sign that features a female figure in three stages of a springboard drive and five 6 1/2-feet tall letters that spell MOTEL was heavily damaged in the fall. It first was believed to be destroyed.

But Larry Graham of Graham’s Neon and Electric Sign Specialists, who is donating $6,000 worth of labor, said it could be fixed. On Dec. 14, the city’s board of adjustment, which oversees commercial sign regulations, issued a special use permit to allow the motel’s owners and history preservationists to place the sign back up.

The current law requires signs to be no taller than 12 feet and 80 square feet in circumference. The law also prohibits animated neon. However, since the sign is such a landmark from an era of roadside lodging when families traveled long distances by car, the city decided to work with Starlite Motel owners Bob Patel and his son, Minal, as well as the Mesa Preservation Foundation, to replace it.

The Mesa Preservation Foundation also has started a Facebook page for the Diving Lady, which has 45 members so far.

“The Diving Lady sign is something that everyone loves and wants to see back in place,” said Vic Linoff, president of the Mesa Preservation Foundation, a nonprofit organization overseeing public fundraising and restoration efforts for the sign. “Our goal is to get all in-kind contributions and individual donations. The labor is going to be substantial. You don’t know what you’re getting into until you open the sign up.”

So far, more than $1,000 has been donated, and the Scottsdale office of Hunt Construction has offered to donate some materials needed for the sign as well as a pole — an estimated $10,000 donation, Linoff said. The Rio Salado Architect Foundation has awarded the preservation foundation a $2,500 Rich Goewey Community Services grant to help with the project because of the sign’s historical significance. An art student from Arizona State University also is donating her time to paint it.

Deborah McMillion, a local artist who did a painting of the Diving Lady, is getting the painting back from a gallery in Texas so it can be raffled off to raise money for the restoration project. Prints of McMillion’s painting will be sold as a fundraiser as well.

The preservation group is hoping that the sign can be replaced in about a year.

“A concern with the Board of Adjustment was, what are you going to have when the sign is back up?,” Linoff said. “This is not going to be a new sign, it is going to be a restored sign. It will be stronger, and it would not fall down under the same circumstances that caused it to come crashing down.”

Linoff also said that a number of the checks people wrote for donations to help repair the sign were accompanied by personal notes.

Louise Pitzer of Gold Canyon, who made a donation, wrote, “Our family remembers the Diving Lady. She welcomed us to the Valley when we moved here 50 years ago, and we’ve smiled every time we’ve seen her since.”

Janet Freuler of Mesa wrote, “I hope enough is donated to rebuild the sign. We miss the Diving Lady!”

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