If you are from New England, it is hard to not know about Kowloon, the iconic roadside landmark on Rt. 1 in Saugus, MA, just north of Boston. A four-mile stretch of Route 1 has arguably the largest collection of roadside architecture and mid-century neon signs in the New England region. The street was referred to as the “Gold Coast” by some for the taxable income to the town of Saugus, and despised by others for the garish proliferation of monumental signs and flashing lights resembling the Vegas. Iconic signs and buildings from the 68-foot tall Hilltop Cactus sign (which has been restored as part of a new development) to the former Ferns Motel, a now gone remnant of the automobile age, replaced by a hotel, to the Leaning Tower of Pizza, a pizza shop with a replica of the iconic leaning tower in Italy, litter the streetscape. A sign ordinance was passed by the town in 1977 limiting the size and brightness of signs, but “grandfathered” the existing signs. Over the years many roadside signs and buildings have made way for new developments, but one institution has actually grown, Kowloon Restaurant.
Originally established in 1950 as The Mandarin House, and able to accommodate just 40-50 customers, the Wong Family started what would become a local institution. In 1958, the Mandarin House was bought by Madeline and Bill Wong, the second generation of the family to own the business who changed the name to Kowloon Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge, and it was a huge success. The restaurant offered a club-like atmosphere in some rooms with waterfalls and volcanoes and other rooms more subdued for families. The restaurant expanded with seating from 50 to 1200! The most stunning part of the complex of additions has to be the addition from 1970, which resembles a Polynesian Longhouse with a 15-foot tiki above the entrance.