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(NECN: Peter Howe, Saugus, Mass.) - For 52 years, Frank Giuffrida's Hilltop Steak House served up a schmaltzy slice of South Dakota along with sizzling steaks, grossing in its best years $5 million a month and serving a phenomenal 8,647 meals in a day, Mother's Day 1980.
But as times and tastes changed, Hilltop finally closed down earlier this autumn, and on Saturday, everything inside is being offered up for auction: wooden Indians, gunslingers, antler lamps, signs for its various dining rooms with names like Sioux City, Dodge City, and Kansas City, and fiberglass cows, cow heads, calves, and bison.
"We've been hired to liquidate the tangible assets, everything inside the building, so we have a tremendous volume of things,'' said Dan Meader, gallery director with John McInnis Auctioneers, as hundreds of visitors swarmed through the Hilltop restaurant Friday and registered to bid. The sale of restaurant kitchen equipment is set for 10 a.m. Saturday, followed by restaurant booths, chandeliers, fixtures, and kitschy Western tchotchkes at 2 p.m.
"We're all here for a piece of memorabilia, and of course, we hate to see it go,'' said Steve Kassiotis, who grew up in Lynn and now lives in Rowley and has happy memories of dozens of meals with friends at the Hilltop over the decades. Kassiotis was looking for "something for the man cave, you know, like an old menu or old picture to hang up on the wall or something.''
Cheryl Oosterman of Melrose, who remembered bringing her newborn daughter to the Hilltop days after her birth, had her eye on some fiberglass livestock, and said if she won a baby calf, "I would put it right in my house and put the Christmas hat on it!''
Meader said he has no idea how much it will all sell for. "Open auction, the public's going to determine what this stuff is worth,'' Meader said. "This is a true old-fashioned auction. We're going to be walking around the building selling this stuff.''
People who've been around Boston for a while will remember that the Hilltop cows along Route 1 were popular with thieves - including larcenous pranksters from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who were known to put the cows on top of campus buildings.
While walking around the vast maze-like basement of the Hilltop, Meader said, they made a stunning discovery: The plastic molds used to cast a Hilltop cow and a Hilltop calf. Those will be two the thousands of items auctioned Saturday.
But one thing not for sale: The five-story high "Hilltop Steak House Frank Giuffrida" sign that greets southbound drivers on U.S. Route 1 as they crest the hill.
"The cactus sign, at this moment, stays with the property. The property is for sale: The building, the land itself -- there's 14 acres here,'' Meader said. "Right now the sign will stay with the property.''
"Unless," Meader added with a laugh, "someone says I'll give you a million bucks -- and then maybe we can do something.''
With videographer Nik Saragosa