If you see people working on the Hilltop Steakhouse cactus on Route 1 in Saugus, and taking parts of it down, don't fret — they're just doing their job.
The famed neon sign is getting a face lift, and workers will spend the next few months taking it apart and restoring the cactus to its former glory, along with a few modern twists.
"Don't worry, it's staying in place," Saugus town planner Krista Leahy said. "It's not going anywhere."
If all goes according to plan, the restoration of the 68-foot sign should be complete by August, according to Michael Roberts, senior vice president of development with AvalonBay Communities, Inc., the company that is redeveloping the property.
"We're very excited about it," Roberts said. "The work just started."
The towering cactus is a familiar landmark on Route 1 and one of the last remnants of Frank Giuffrida's Hilltop restaurant, which occupied the site for decades and was famous for its very long lines, generous portions of food (and doggie bags to bring home), and life-sized fake cattle that perpetually grazed on the front lawn.
When the restaurant was demolished in 2015, the cactus sign survived, and it will now become part of a new mixed-use development called Avalon Saugus, which will include 24,000 square feet of retail space and 280 apartments. The restaurant closed in 2013.
"It's a very iconic sign," Roberts said, and "an iconic piece of the development."
Roberts said the sign was built in 1967 and is an important part of the landscape that should be preserved.
"There's a long history to it," he said. "From the beginning, we felt it was important to include that into our development."
Workers will take apart the sign piece by piece, and new wiring and energy-efficient LED lights will be installed, he said.
People will see pieces coming down, as most of the exterior of the sign will be removed, he said. The majority of the elements will be cleaned and repaired and restored, he said.
Once the work is complete and everything is put back together, the refurbished cactus will still bear the name "Hilltop," but there will be some new signage, too.
A rendering of the refurbished cactus shows that the lower portion (which once bore Frank Giuffrida's name) will display the names of businesses at the new development, and the "Steak House" sign will be replaced by the slogan "Shop — Dine — Live." Roberts said a final decision has not been made about the slogan, but one thing is for sure — the word "Hilltop" will remain.