D-Tour: Hilltop Steakhouse cactus

It’s a sign that brightened Saugus for decades, and even though the Hilltop Steakhouse may be gone, the 67-foot cactus still stands.

“I think it’s very much a symbol of the town,” said Stephen Carlson, chair of the Saugus Historical Commission.

The sign was built in 1967, a few years after Frank Giuffrida opened the restaurant. Giuffrida’s wife and daughters told 7’s Danielle Gersh the whole concept was inspired a particular Hollywood legend.

“He loved westerns. He loved John Wayne,” according to Frank’s wife, Irene.

“The person who made the sign drew different sketches,” Frank’s daughter, Tina Primavera, remembered. “Once he drew the cactus, my father instantly said ‘That’s it.'”

Frank Giuffrida’s name is a big part of the sign, but having his name on it actually wasn’t his idea.

“The head waitress said ‘Frank, you should put your name on it,’ and he said ‘Who’s going to pronounce Giuffrida?'” Irene remembered.

But it was a name that generations of people came to know as they visited the restaurant that became an institution on the north shore.

“The whole lane would be all going into the Hilltop,” Tina said.

“Back in the day we caused quite a bit of traffic,” said Frank’s youngest daughter, Gina Giuffrida.

Giuffrida sold the restaurant in the late 1980’s. He passed away in 2003. Ten years later, the Hilltop Steakhouse closed its doors for good, and the sign went dark.

“Driving up and down at night with it off, it’s a different feel,” Gina said.

But still it’s a piece of Frank Giuffrida that lives on.

“He touched a lot of people’s hearts. He was to me, in my eyes, as large as the cactus is,” Gina said.

The Hilltop cactus is not a protected landmark, but it is listed in the state’s inventory of historic places. That means if anyone ever plans to do anything to the sign, the Saugus historical commission will know about it.

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