The vintage neon signs from neighborhood diners, burger joints and movie theaters to amusements parks, dance clubs and cheap motels might still be around, even though the business is gone.

Such is the case for the colorful 68-foot high Hilltop Steakhouse saguaro cactus sign that's been a landmark on Route 1 in Saugus since 1961, when Frank Giuffrida opened a chain of them in Nashua, Hartford, Braintree and Springfield.

In 1987, that sign attracted enough patrons to gross $27 million, serving over 2.4 million hungry buckaroos. Oddly, when it closed its doors in 2013, management said it was because of a dramatic change in the volume of their business. The restaurant has since been demolished, but the legendary sign is going to stay and has just completed the process of restoration, including replacing the old neon with energy-efficient LED lighting.

It will continue to be a visual reminder of days gone by, but will be advertising a new mixed-use development with 280 apartments and 24,000 square feet of retail space, including 110 Grill, Starbucks, Avalon Saugus and other stores. The fatted, life-sized fake cattle that used to be in front of the Hilltop have found other pastures, but at least the Hilltop Cactus will continue to be a compass for motorists for many decades to come.

Thinking back, some of my favorite neon signs include the famous Shawmut Diner Indian, the Paul Revere sign, the Siesta Motel sign on Rt. 1 in Saugus (not far from the Hilltop Cactus), Fontaine's Chicken spreading its wings on Rt. 1 in West Roxbury and in the North End of Boston, European Restaurant Fine Foods Pizzeria. It's easy to love the connection neon signs bring, not to mention some of the greatest advertising ever!

Phil Paleologos is the host of The Phil Paleologos Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard from 6 am to 10 am. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @PhilPaleologos. The opinions expressed in the commentary are solely those of the author.

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