I grew up just a mile from the Starlite Motel, which sported one of the classic vintage motel signs in the Valley of the Sun. The motel itself was pretty ghetto, but its sign quickly cemented itself into my emotional memory bank. I haven’t been back to that intersection in years and years, but I still fondly remember that neon sign. Earlier this week, Arizona Highways posted an article about the sign and the role it played in a father-son relationship.
Dad and I watched the diving girl sail down from the neon sign into water of wavy, blue neon. Over and over again, her blonde hair, tan body, and green one-piece swimsuit would light up at the top of the sign like a 1950s Jantzen ad. She would first appear gracefully folded at the waist, blink out, light up again straight as an arrow, blink out, and then reappear splashing into neon water with perfectly pointed fingertips.
Sure, we probably both fantasized of the sign artist’s curvaceous model, but it was the handcrafted bending of neon tubes, the engineering of the sheet metal, and the electrician’s circuitry that held something far deeper for us.
The beacon for the Starlite Motel soared above old U.S. Highway 60 in Mesa, the once-popular route to Phoenix, now bypassed by the freeway system. I remember on that warm evening, back in 1992, how I pointed out the sign painter’s brush strokes in the diving girl’s weathering patina. Dad talked about the sequencing of lights and the work in the vertical stack of big, block-letters spelling “MOTEL,” the reason for the eye-catching marvel of engineering in the first place.
I remember hearing that the sign had been damaged and I’m glad to hear that the sign is being restored—and I hope to get back there soon to see her diving once again.