Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Signs of the Times: Starlite Motel

When Mr. Tiny was young, I was quite the water baby.  Joyfully swimming at every opportunity, the deep end of any pool still seemed menacing and probably would have remained so if my mother hadn't believed in the full-immersion approach to shallow-end aversion therapy.  One sunny, summer day in my fourth year, my mom carried me down the street to our well-populated community pool and, filled with the strength that it would take to remove a wailing, flailing, crying child that is trying his darnedest to claw his way to the top of her head, she heaved me into the deep end and told me that I would have to swim to the edge.  Needless to to say, I did make it to the edge but I never swam again...  Okay, only the first part of the story is true; I actually continued to swim and became a contender in backstroke and freestyle - thanks, Mom.  Not only did I overcome my fear of water more than three-and-a-half feet deep, I also learned to love the diving opportunities that only the deep end could afford.  Who knew that the desert of Mesa, AZ would offer the most exciting diving I've ever seen?

Starlite Motel - Mesa, AZ

If there was a star attraction of our recent Arizona adventure, it would have to be the Starlite Motel.  We didn't even end up staying at this 1960 roadside landmark, but the wacky tacky impact of Starlite's beautiful sign was still paramount to us and the residents of Mesa.  The marquee, extending a welcome to visitors and the availability of a jacuzzi room, was pretty nice and definitely worthy of inclusion in our previous post about Main Street's amazing signs, but the sign for which the Starlite Motel is most praiseworthy is its famous diving girl.  

The diving girl is the story of a comeback kid; nearly obliterated by a powerful windstorm in 2010, the sign was blown down and left to the elements when the funds to restore her could not be raised.  The gods of wacky tacky were smiling on her when community leaders and Americana enthusiasts rallied to raise the $120,000 that was necessary for her rehabilitation.  This year, just a few short days before our visit, the reinforced sign's restoration (using the original plans) was complete and we were able to visit the surprisingly-fit, 53-year-old, 78-foot-tall diving phenomenon.

Awe struck by the majesty of it all.
Ostensibly, the sign was erected to advertise the motel's sparkling pool.
Ironically, the sign has been restored, but the pool is long gone.

As per usual, we found the sign in the glaring light of the noonday sun.  However beautiful she was, it was the least optimal hour to view the animated neon sign.  Although time was short and the Starlite's Mesa address was quite a distance from our hotel and any of our mandatory itinerary items, I vowed to return after dark to witness the diving lady in all of her neon glory.

Not just a dive, but a jackknife!

I have a strong bias towards animated neon; nevertheless, I give her a perfect 10!

It is a loosely-guarded secret that a dream of mine (one of many) is to own an historic motel and restore it with an awesome pool, a delicious coffee shop/diner, and a venue for hosting special events.  Having been bit by the same bug as Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn, it sounds like I would be treading in some pretty deep and treacherous water.  I guess I won't know until I dive in.  Speaking of diving, here is the Starlite Motel sign in action; I somehow managed to add sound effects and music to the video (far beyond my normal skill level) but, believe it or not, it wouldn't upload onto YouTube with them!  I guess once you're flagged, you're flogged!

Thus, in the beautiful hum and glow of neon, we end our Phoenix adventures; we always like to go out with a SPLASH!!!

Starlite Motel
2710 E Main St
Mesa, AZ


Mr. Tiny

p.s.  As a reminder, we are creeping up on 200 followers.  Lest you forget, we are marking the occasion with an unprecedented GIVEAWAY!!!  Please join in the fun!


  1. she really is gorgeous! i'm glad she got restored (120,000 dollars!!!!) and you got to see her! i wish i had something like that in my front yard!

    1. Me too!!! I wish that more people would get together for a good cause with no hidden agenda. First we save signs and then we save lives!!!

  2. That sign is incredible! Great to see it in the daytime and at night. Not that it even compares to the starlite motel sign, but the Hotel De Anza in San Jose has a diving lady painted on the side from the early 50s that was used to advertise their heated pool back in the day which I believe no longer exists. If only it lit up and was animated...

    1. If there is anything to rival my love of neon signs, it is hand-painted signs on the sides of buildings. They are basically extinct in this part of CA. We had an old, painted, 7-Up sign on the side of an old bar that we finally took pictures with because I wasn't sure when it would be destroyed. Just a few weeks after we took the photos, the sign was painted over!!! We must take pictures before they are gone!

  3. WANT! OH MY GOSH WANT, WANT, WANT!!!!! I would DIE to have something like that out in the back yard of the Casablanca! How wonderful that everyone banded together and brought her back to her former glory. Im so glad you went back and took night pictures and video! Neon is so wonderful. One of my silly guilty pleasures is getting to turn the neon on at work. (The Wichita Theatre in Wichita falls) We have a HUGE marquee that was build in 1938 with 100 flood lights under the awning and lighted poster boxes, red neon all around the letter boards, a vertical sign board all the way up the center of building that says "WICHITA" on both sides and blinks alternating Red and Green, with a white and yellow neon arrowhead on top AND it's surrounded but blue neon. I love flipping the million breakers and throwing the big 3 switches to bring it all to life! Nothing quite as exciting as the hum of neon at dusk on a summer night, as you well know. We still use the original metal letters to spell out the musicals on the marquee too! If you ever want to bring your "Holiday inn" idea into life, I'll gladly go is a a partner! Haha "Holiday Inn" is kind of what I modeled the Casablanca after. Im pretty sure we'd agree on most everything!

    1. That sounds like the best job!!! If that was all you had to do, it would be worth it! Don't be surprised if I take you and all of your design skills up on that offer!

  4. Replies
    1. RIGHT!?! It seems odd to "love" old signs but I really do. Starlite could never disappoint!

  5. I love this sign! I happened to be over there today. Dropped someone off there (I'm a cab driver). Had to take a pic of the sign. BTW, if you want to restore an old motel, check out the Buckhorn Baths in Mesa. A lot of history there, and much tackiness.I hope you have lots of money. It's a money pit. I keep telling myself I'm going to restore it if I ever win the lottery. The Mesa Historical Society wanted to restore it, but I believe they've given up on that idea. Such a shame.