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Route 1 in Saugus losing landmarks

A Super Walmart has opened across from the former Hilltop Steak House, where only the giant cactus remains on the restaurant site.Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

SAUGUS — Bulldozers devoured the Hilltop Steakhouse in April, but left its 68-foot-tall neon cactus standing high over Route 1.

The wrecking ball struck Weylu’s in September, turning the mammoth restaurant to dust 27 years after it was built with materials imported from China.

Now looms the loss of the orange dinosaur.

Route 1 Miniature Golf & Batting Cages plans to close by early November, ending 57 years of family fun played under the watchful eye of the 12-foot fiberglass dinosaur. The fate of the Tyrannosaurus Rex, which has guarded the sixth hole for 55 years, is unknown.

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Not every roadside landmark is changing. The Leaning Tower of Pizza still tilts atop Prince Pizzeria, and the tiki god still watches over the entrance to the Kowloon.

Still, the loss of three landmark destinations in less than a year reflects a rapidly changing stretch of Route 1 in Saugus. New zoning allows for taller buildings, hotels, apartments, and retailers, all on the same site.

“It really encourages people to think in terms of a mix of uses,” said Robert Luongo, the town’s economic development officer. “We want higher and better uses than we’ve had in the past.”

Already, there is one stark contrast of the old and new: Across from the vacant lot where the Hilltop once drew a line waiting for tables, Walmart opened a glass-front supercenter just about a year ago that has attracted shoppers from all over, said manager Brendan Quirk.

Plans for the 14-acre Hilltop site are not yet finalized, said Peter Rossetti, a Saugus lawyer who is advising the property owner, High Country Investor Inc., which closed the restaurant nearly two years ago.

“They would like to have retail and residential,” Rossetti said. “And I think, ideally, they’d like a high-end restaurant, like a Del Frisco’s or a Capital Grille.”

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The neon cactus will become part of the new development. “It brings a lot of recognition to the site,” Rossetti said.

At the junction of Routes 1 and 99, the 11-acre former Weylu’s property could become a hotel, apartments, and retail shops.

“It’s such a unique site, with its size, scope, and presence, we hope to make it a new gateway for Route 1,” said Joe DiNanno, president of Republic Properties, a real estate development company in Malden.

Republic Properties purchased the old Weylu’s property for $4 million in 2013. Modeled after the Forbidden City of ancient China, the 51,000-square-foot restaurant had been vacant since 2009, when the the last of a series of Asian eateries closed.

After years of vandalism and neglect, the building had to be torn down, DiNanno said.

“The building was so unique, and specialized, it wasn’t going to work with anything we’re thinking of doing,” he said.

The site will be combined with 36 acres of adjacent land in Revere known as Caddy Farm that DiNanno has owned for decades. The Revere land is zoned for commercial use. In Saugus, the current zoning allows for a mix of residential and commercial uses.

Town officials plan to work with the developer to write a new zoning package for the site, Luongo said.

DiNanno said he will work with officials to identify the best use for the Saugus side of the property. “We want to put together a well thought-out plan that addresses the interests of the town, the neighborhood, really all of the stakeholders,” he said.

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Across the road, Route 1 Miniature Golf & Batting Cages sits on 3 acres that is under agreement to be sold to Michael Touchette, a Lynnfield developer.

He plans to combine the site with 8 acres he owns next door to build Collins Place, a $70 million development.

The project would include two hotels with a total of 254 rooms. Touchette also plans 216 one-bedroom rentals in three six-story apartment buildings.

On the mini-golf site, another six-story building would have space for a restaurant and retailer on the first floor, and 40 apartments on the five floors above. A traffic engineer will be hired to study the impact of the site.

While some Saugus residents welcome the increased tax revenues from new development, others worry about the impacts these massive complexes will have on their neighborhoods.

“We understand Route 1 is our tax base,” said Linda Mellor, a 37-year homeowner on Hood Street, which is behind the old Weylu’s site. “But I’m not sure that Route 1 can take any more traffic.”

Cynthia Fordham also wondered if the road can handle the new traffic that would be generated by the proposed Collins Place.

“I’m concerned about more accidents,” she said. “I’m concerned there aren’t enough police and fire to respond to all the additional traffic.”

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Bill Leuci is worried about the impact of blasting through ledge on neighborhoods behind the site where the minigolf complex now stands.

“We’ve been shaken up for years,” said Bill Leuci, who lives about a mile from the Collins Place site.

“I have a concern that they’re going to blast and take out all that ledge,” said Carl Senftleben, who has lived behind the old Weylu’s site — on Anawan Street — for 35 years. “I don’t want access from this street to that parcel.”

Other residents want more information about what will become of the old Weylu’s site.

“I have no idea what they plan,” said Eddie Harrison, 79, who has lived on Eustis Street, which is adjacent to the Revere portion of the site, for 30 years. “It’s a wait-and-see game.”

Harrison is part of Save Eustis Street, a neighborhood group that formed in 2013 after trucks rumbled down their street to deliver construction materials.

“We’ve had trucks go through here and it’s not good,” Harrison said. “We have a lot of kids who live on this street. We don’t want that land opened up.”

Just under 3 miles up the highway heading north, a turn lane added to Route 1 has helped to improve traffic flow in and out of the new Walmart.

The 114,000-square-foot supercenter, which has underground parking and energy-efficient lighting, meets the town’s development goals, Luongo said.

“Our vision for Route 1 is really to encourage sustainable developments,” he said.” We want to go more vertical, buildings going up, rather than one-story horizontal.”

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Kathy McCabe can be reached at katherine.mccable@globe.
com
.