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Starlite Motel.
Diving Lady's tiny ladder was put there by her creator; he didn't have a crane tall enough to reach the top of the sign.

Neon Diving Lady: Starlite Motel

Field review by the editors.

Mesa, Arizona

Every ten seconds a neon blonde in a bathing suit took a three-part plunge from a 70-foot pole into a splash of electrified blue water. The locals called her "Diving Lady," and she advertised the outdoor pool at the Starlite Motel on the eastern edge of Mesa. When she debuted in 1960 she was the tallest thing in the city, visible for a mile in either direction along Main Street.

Starlite Motel.
Time exposure of Diving Lady's three-part neon plunge and splash.

That ended on October 5, 2010, when a freak storm snapped Diving Lady's pole, smashed all of her neon tubes, and collapsed the sign onto the motel's parking lot.

By sheer luck, Vic Linoff, president of the Mesa Preservation Foundation, was driving past Diving Lady moments after she fell. He knew that the massive sign would have no fans among code-enforcing bureaucrats and budget-conscious business owners. "I realized that if we didn't intervene, it was gonna be lost," he said. Vic phoned the local media, and the fate of Diving Lady became a city-wide story by the six o'clock news.

"I think the sign would have been hauled off if another day had gone by," Vic said. In fact, Vic later learned that the motel owner had been offering to sell Diving Lady as scrap metal for $300. "He just wanted it out of his parking lot."

The publicity gambit worked. Mesa officials recognized the PR value of restoring Diving Lady, waived regulations, and expedited paperwork. The motel owners, basking in free publicity, changed their opinion of Diving Lady and donated her $10,000 insurance policy to help pay for her repair. Vic told us that at first he "naively" believed that the sign could be fixed in three months for $30,000. Instead the restoration cost $125,000 and took 2.5 years.

Starlite Motel.
October 5, 2010: Diving Lady's belly flop.

"We didn't want it to look like a new sign," said Vic, although building a new imitation sign would have been faster and cheaper. Historical preservation required the skills of a structural engineer, sheet metal fabricator, electrician, sign painter, chemist, and glassblower. "We were careful to restore Diving Lady to the appearance she had just before she fell," said Vic, "so if you were an occasional visitor and didn't know what had happened, the sign would look just the same as the last time you saw it." This also meant that Diving Lady's illumination was kept as neon, not replaced with LEDs.

Starlite Motel.
Starlite Motel sign used to advertise "Pool," but it was filled in years ago.

In the end, almost 90 percent of the original Diving Lady was repaired and reused in the sign's restoration.

On April 2, 2013, at dusk, Mesa's mayor threw a switch and Diving Lady resumed her six-times-a-minute neon aquatics. Vic said that the Preservation Foundation expected maybe 50 people to show up; instead, the the re-lighting ceremony drew a crowd of 1,000. "It was only after she fell that we found out how much she really meant to people."

With Diving Lady's newfound fame, visitors from across the country come to see the sign. Even when Mesa's temperature tops 100, as it often does, no one seems to mind that the pool promoted by Diving Lady is gone, filled in by the motel owners long before she fell.

Starlite Motel.
Sad and broken in 2010, but Diving Lady would dive again.

Vic said that the city now frequently identifies itself with Diving Lady, although her restoration was paid for entirely with private donations. "They can have all the credit if they want it," said Vic. "They're thrilled; we're thrilled that they're thrilled. She's up, and I can drive by her, and I smile every time."

Also see: Moon Winx Lodge | Dine-A-Ville Dinosaur

Neon Diving Lady: Starlite Motel

Starlite Motel

2710 E. Main St., Mesa, AZ
Starlite Motel. US Hwy 60 exit 182. Drive north on S. Gilbert Rd for two miles. Turn right onto E. Apache Trail/Main St. Drive one mile. You'll see Diving Lady on the left, just before the intersection of N. Lindsay Rd.
Best at night. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Pizzeria With a Pipe OrganPizzeria With a Pipe Organ, Mesa, AZ - 3 mi.
Commemorative Air Force MuseumCommemorative Air Force Museum, Mesa, AZ - 3 mi.
Big Gopher on Roof with HatBig Gopher on Roof with Hat, Gilbert, AZ - 4 mi.
In the region:
Elvis Presley Memorial Chapel, Apache Junction, AZ - 16 mi.

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