Sept. 20: The Saco Drive In, Saco ME

It’s Day 263 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It was another day in the suburbs of Portland ME, requiring less than half an hour to drive from the Prides Corner Drive-In in Westbrook to The Saco Drive In in Saco ME.

The Saco is the second-oldest drive-in still operating; only Shankweilers Drive-In Theatre in Orefield PA predates it. Based on the list in Kerry Segrave’s Drive-In Theaters, the Saco is probably one of the first couple dozen drive-ins ever built. It opened on July 15, 1939, a decade before in-car speakers came to town, so those first patrons must have been listening to the single loudspeaker with their windows open. Back then it was called the Saco Open Air Theatre.

According to Camille Smalley’s book The Saco Drive-In: Cinema Under the Maine Sky, Eugene Boragine and two partners were the Saco’s first owners. The drive-in closed for the duration of World War II, then reopened in July 1946. About 1950, Boragine bought out the partners and ran the place with his wife Helen Toth. In 1952, he changed its name to the Saco Motor-In Theatre, then again in 1954 to just the Saco Drive-In.

Smalley wrote that the Saco was resold “only a few times,” and Segrave’s book says it was put up for sale in 1987. An article in The Free Press of the University of Southern Maine said that Pat Roberge’s husband bought it in 1986, saying they had leased it to others during the next 25 years. As of 2014, it was still owned by Roberge Construction.

In 2011, Ry Russell and a couple of USM marketing classmates began leasing the Saco. They raised $20,000 to cover the start-up costs and were off to take a 21st-century approach to management. They built up a social media following which happened to pay off in 2013 when Project Honda offered a digital projectors to drive-ins that could garner the most votes. “You could say we were running for this contest before it even started,” Russell later told Portland Monthly (pdf).

For the YouTube video of the day, I picked the clip from WMTW, Portland’s News Leader, about the Saco’s victory in Project Honda.

This time of year, the Saco is still showing movies on Fridays and Saturdays. But not Wednesdays, giving me another night off.

Miles Today / Total: 14 / 30959 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 166

Nearby Restaurant: For the old-fashioned diner I wanted to substitute for missing out on the drive-in, I saw that the Auto Mile Diner even had a car in the name. The “diner” part was more authentic than retro-styled, and the superb biscuits and gravy made me glad I visited.

Where I Virtually Stayed: It had been so long since I stayed at a Hampton Inn that I jumped at the chance here in Saco. Modern, comfy room with a work desk, though no fridge. Hampton standard (good) breakfast with hot and cold options. Just a solid, reliable place.

Only in Saco: Just up US 1 from the drive-in is Scarborough’s Len Libby Candies, home of a life-sized chocolate moose. His name, of course, is Lenny, and he weighs 1700 pounds. They say he’s “the world’s largest chocolate animal sculpture,” which makes me wonder what larger animals there might be that would lend themselves to chocolate artistry.

Next stop: Weirs Drive-In Theatre, Laconia NH.