In 1960, two years after opening the Starlite Motel at Main and Lindsay, brothers Bud and Dick Kaesler, Kansas transplants, wanted an iconic sign to attract travelers to their motel and its newly built swimming pool.
They hired Mesa graphic artist Stanley Russon to design an eye-popping monumental neon sign that would pull in guests. Master signmaker Paul Millett was employed to execute Russon’s plan for 6 ½ foot letters spelling M.O.T.E.L. and three swimming suit clad female figures performing a precise, animated dive from atop a 70-foot pole into a pool of cool, blue neon water.
Back when Main Street was a two-lane road with no streetlights, the Diving Lady (as the sign became to be called), could be seen from a considerable distance making her sequential, 3-second plunges.
All went well for the next half-century until the aquatic beauty that charmed millions of people succumbed to a violent, memorable storm on October 10, 2010.
With every piece of neon shattered, sheet metal crumpled and the pole in pieces, the virtually destroyed Diving Lady sign was nearly consigned to the scrapheap. Mesa Preservation Foundation, a non-profit group of passionate preservationists, stepped in to lead an effort to restore the irreplaceable treasure.
In addition to the damage produced by the fall, the sign suffered from years of weathering. Its interior was seriously rusted, corroded and otherwise considerably damaged.
Larry Graham, a local sign maker who was mentored by Paul Millett and who also knew and understood the quirks of Millett’s construction techniques, agreed to undertake the arduous task of repair and restoration.
With only $10,000 in insurance money, the Mesa Preservation Foundation knew it would take a massive public effort to raise the money to restore the Diving Lady. It led the call to the public for support – bringing in hundreds of contributions – ranging from just a one dollar to more than $1000.
What initially started as a $65,000 3-month repair effort exploded into a $120,000, nearly two-and-a-half year full-blown project – Larry Graham’s biggest job ever.
She Dives Again
After hundreds of hours of “surgery,” repair and rehabilitation, the Diving Lady was finally ready to resume her nightly aquatics atop her towering pole. More than 2 years after she fell, the Diving Lady was fully restored—retaining more than 85% of her original materials.
On April 2, 2013, led by Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, more than 1000 fans of the Diving Lady crowded onto the Starlite property to witness the ceremonial “throwing of the switch” – and the nightly dives of everybody’s favorite aquanaut.
Never losing hope about her survival, the Mesa Preservation Foundation was pleased to lead the effort to restore one of the Valley’s most important signs.