Diving Lady destroyed in storm makes comeback

Posted: Updated:
By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

MESA, Ariz -- The Diving Lady. It's a historic neon sign that's been a beacon in the East Valley for five decades, but a few years ago it came crumbling down during a windstorm. 3TV goes inside Graham's Neon Studio to see how the sign is coming back to life.

Larry Graham has spent decades mastering neon.

"My mom got me into it. That's kind of corny but she got me into and it's art," said Graham.

So when a severe windstorm blew through the Valley in October 2010 and took down the iconic Diving Lady in Mesa, Graham was notified immediately.

"Right away I got a call that the sign hit the ground and no one was sure what they were going to do with it at the time," he said.

The animated neon sign, featuring three scenes of a woman diving into a pool, once stood 78 feet tall.

"It's pretty popular. A lot of people know exactly where it's at," Graham remarked.

Built in 1960 to bring business to the Starlite Motel, the sign has weathered many storms.

"I think it's one of the top ten or twenty signs nationally known," stated Graham.

Determined to restore the historic landmark, Graham teamed up with the Mesa Preservation Foundation.

"We had to measure everything up just so we knew how it had to go back together. After that we chopped it up with a torch and brought it all over here," Graham explained.

Graham knew the restoration was going to be quite a challenge, but he was up to it especially since he had met the original designer, Paul Millet.

"It's not something you sit on a table and put back together. You've got 16 foot structures, 6 foot 6 structures, spacing, timing, electrical on a pole that's 80 feet in the air so yeah it's kind of stressful, a little bit," Graham noted.

Part of the project meant preserving the weathered look.

"They wanted the skin of the sign to be the original so it's over 95 percent original, the internal structures are all new," Graham explained.

Slowly the Diving Lady began to take shape.

"We got one letter done after another and then all the letters were done," said Graham.

It's been nearly three years but the Diving Lady is now back on her perch and Graham couldn't be more pleased with the finished product.

"It's a good feeling that we accomplished quite a feat there," he said.

The Mesa Preservation Foundation is planning a re-dedication ceremony. However a date hasn't been finalized.

Graham's Neon is located on 456 North Country Club Drive in Mesa, AZ 85201. Contact: (480) 962-6366 or grahamsneon@aol.com