Friday, September 20, 2013

Route 1, Saugus and Lynnfield, Massachusetts

.... another installment in the 20th Century Americana series!

Today I'm featuring the programmatic advertising architecture seen along Route 1 north of Boston, Massachusetts.  This was originally an old road known as the Newburyport Turnpike.  During the 20th century and the development of the interstate highway system, this road became Route 1, which stretches from the Canadian border with Maine, all the way to Key West in the state of Florida.

Last week I featured the Clam Box on Route 1A in Ipswich, Massachusetts.  This architecture seen on Route 1 north of Boston is similar.  It was developed to attract the travelers leaving or approach Boston, with wild and inventive colors and shapes. There are some restaurants and attractions built here in the early and mid 20th century that can be described as fun, tacky, weird, grotesque and/or historical- all depending on your point of view.

The Route 1 Mini Golf has been open since 1958.  It has now added batting cages and an arcade to attract modern youngsters, but the orange dinosaur has been there since the beginning.  When we were first married we lived in Malden, Massachusetts.  When I saw the orange dinosaur I knew I was at our exit to go home. It's a landmark in many, many ways, as well as a real piece of history and nostalgia on Route 1. No matter where you live in the USA, many of the roadside mini golf courses used to have all sorts of interesting themed creations and structures to attract the "golfers". 

The Kowloon Restaurant was established in 1950 by the Wong Family. At first it occupied the small section of the building right next to the roadside sign.  It has since grown into a huge building that seats over 1200 people.  Generations of Bostonians were introduced to Chinese food at this establishment, how about you? Check out the website below for lots of nostalgic looks at old menus, matchbooks and decor from over the years at the Kowloon. 

The Hilltop Steakhouse is famous for it's huge portions of food, and for the huge plaster steer grazing on the front lawn as the traffic zips by.  My parents went on dates here, and there is a famous family story about my Mom enjoying her first "Manhattan" mixed drink at the Hilltop (don't worry, Mom, I won't tell the story).   I'm sure that if you lived or went to school in the Boston area, you had at least one steak dinner at the Hilltop.  Generations of MIT students know the story of how one of these plaster cows was part of a very famous hack on their campus, too.

The Prince Pizzeria was built by the Castraberti family in 1961.  It still has the leaning tower of Pisa on the roof.  It was originally a drive-in pizza place known as the "Leaning Tower of Pizza" owned by the Prince pasta company.  

Of course, on Route 1 you will still find a 1950's style McDonald's restaurant, too, complete with the original style golden arches.  There aren't many of these left in New England. I remember when these were just counters for take out.  What did the first McDonald's you visited look like?

This wooden ship is a seafood restaurant known as "The Ship", but it is now part of a large complex housing a Christmas Tree Shop, complete with a lighthouse and wharf buildings.  This restaurant was first opened in 1925 by a Gloucester sea captain named James F. Wilkinson as a roadside stand.  He was trying to save money from the restaurant to build his own ship, but this is the ship he ended up building instead!  It has been a landmark along this road longer than any of the other interesting buildings along Route 1 north of Boston.  As a child I remember riding up Route 1A from Boston towards the North Shore, and watching out the car window for the dinosaur, the giant cactus and cows, and finally the ship.

The Ship restaurant is still owned by members of the Wilkinson family.   I have checked the census records, and the original Captain James F. Wilkinson was born in Nova Scotia, Canada.  He died in Lynnfield in 1940.  No, he can't be a relative, but it was tempting to check to see if he was a cousin! 

Route 1 Mini Golf and Batting Cages website

The Kowloon Restaurant

The Hilltop Steakhouse website:

The Prince Pizzeria website

The Ship restaurant website:


The URL for this post is:

Copyright 2013, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. This is a very entertaining and educational series and I am enjoying it a lot!

    1. Thanks, John! I hope folks see the connection to genealogy, too. Visiting these places with family can be great story starters for oral history. And some of these places might even be in your family photo album!

    2. Heather ... I just sat down to write a blog about these landmarks on Route One form a historic preservation viewpoint. With the future of the giant cactus sign in jeopardy I want to start asking questions publicly about this segment of Americana. May I use your blog as a resource, fully crediting you of course? Thanks!

    3. Yes, you have my permission. Please post the link to your post here so we may all read your story.

    4. Here it is:

  2. Oh my goodness - I just went through a time warp. I remember riding by all those things when I was a kid and especially The Ship. Rt. 1 would not be the same without them. I have enjoyed a meal or two at The Hilltop and a few years ago, my sister, my kids a niece and a nephew had a wonderful meal and a great visit at The Ship.

  3. This is my first time i visit here. I found so many entertaining stuff in your blog, especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! Keep up the good work.

  4. I have been to many of these sights and restaurants since the 1980's. There is nothing more nostalgic than route 1! I have so many fond memories of this place, and I still visit to this day. All the Americana structures and art deco signs are so much fun! : ) May it always remain the same as we preserve our historical past.

  5. i'm sorry, but the McDonalds you have pictured is not original - it was built around the time I graduated from high school in the late 90s to replace one of the more generic brick ones from the 70s/80s. it's definitely cool looking, but not old.

    1. It's the Disneyfication of an original fast food joint, if such a thing is possible.

  6. Thanks so much for the tour! It brought me back to the days of making the 3-hour trip from Maine to Boston in our fire-truck red, '68 Chevy Biscayne station wagon. We'd pass the Kittery (Maine) Trading Post, Valley's steak House, the Kittery bridge, then the Howard Johnson's at the traffic circle in Portsmouth. From then it was pretty much trees, trees and more trees until Mom announced that we were about to hit the Route 1 "Honkey Tonk!" All the arguments would cease and we five kids would stay glued to the windows, waiting for all our favorite sights. As soon as I finish here I plan to forward this page to my sibs. They'll love it. Thanks for the smiles!!!!

  7. Both Route 1 Minigolf and Hilltop Steak House are now gone, sad to say. Orange dinosaur will remain on the site of the new condo complex being built where minigolf used to be. Ginormous neon cactus remains, which it should, but for how long is a mystery. Site remains empty and overgrown with weeds now. Very sad.