I spent the holiday weekend making a pilgrimage, of sorts, to a pair of endangered neon signs: Hilltop Steak House in Saugus and Lord’s in Medfield.
I have fond memories of stopping at the Hilltop on the way home from weekends in Maine with a once-close friend. The attraction was not the food — I don’t particularly like steak or lobster and the salad dressing was way too sweet — but we loved the restaurant’s delicious tackiness. Mostly I associate the Hilltop with those trips to Old Orchard Beach — where I won a stuffed flamingo (or was it a pink puffin?) in a game of chance — and the knowledge that we were almost home after a long drive.
And now it’s closing. What will happen to the larger-than-life sign that towers over Route 1? And what of the herd of fake cattle, corralled in front of the restaurant and beloved by all?
And then there’s Lord’s. Let me start by saying that I have no sentimental attachment to this sign. But over the past few months, two different people I’ve met through my project to save the Circle Cinema sign have encouraged me to take a look. It’s on Route 109 in Medfield and you can’t miss it. The sign’s exuberant typography marks the site of a now-empty department store that shut down in February after 73 years in business (which means, coincidentally, that Lord’s and the Circle Theater both opened in 1940). I’m told that the new owners have no interest in re-using the sign or saving it. Which means that unless someone steps up to save this example of commercial archeology, we will all lose another piece of our collective past.
I’ve written before about the Circle Cinemas on the Brighton / Brookline border. Despite growing community support and a Facebook page, the future of the CIRCLE sign is still unknown. Its fate depends on a number of factors, including decisions about a redevelopment project slated for the site, and nothing is certain.
Too many of New England’s neon signs are endangered. Lord’s and the Hilltop and the Circle are all landmark signs that have the power to evoke memories of old friends, movie dates, and small-town New England. But without a constituency to save them — and a place to store them — many of these signs seem destined to disappear. We’ve already lost the Coca-Cola sign that overlooked Storrow Drive. Maybe we should follow the example of Las Vegas where a group of citizens banded together to salvage the city’s neon signs when they fell to renovation or implosion. They began by storing the signs in a vacant lot and over time they were able to create the Neon Museum.
Now Boston is not like Las Vegas in any way, but we have the good fortune to live in a region that recognizes the value of its past. Maybe its time to follow the example of our Las Vegas neighbors and celebrate New England’s history in lights.
(By the way, you can visit my Etsy shop to get a photo of the Hilltop or other Boston-area neon signs.)