Don’t forget the cactus

After yesterday’s post about the Hilltop Steak House, I heard from the daughter of the man who designed the restaurant’s iconic neon sign.  Here’s what I learned about him.

Closeup of neon cactus

A detail from Hilltop’s famous neon cactus

His name was Charles S. Magliozzi.  Born in Everett, he created his first sign at age 16 and went on to found Mack Advertising Inc.  His claim to fame, of course, was designing the 67-foot high cactus that came to symbolize the Hilltop.  Some facts about the sign:

  • The cactus contains 210 fluorescent light bulbs and nearly half a mile of neon tubing.
  • Construction workers had to blast a hole in the ground eight feet deep, 28 feet long, and 15 feet wide to accommodate the sign.
  • Six flatbed trailers were needed to haul the sign elements.
  • The sign took five days to assemble.

The cactus was not the first idea for the sign, Magliozzi told the Boston Globe in 1990. “We tried many ideas — a Western motif, cowboys and cattle — before coming to the cactus.”  To make sure he got the details right, Magliozzi went to Nevada to study cactus in the wild.

The sign cost $68,653.52 to make in the early 1960s but Magliozzi only billed $58,000 because the project was over budget. “It was the best $10,000 I could have ever spent for advertising the business,” he said years later.  Magliozzi died in 1994 at the age of 80.

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