It’s Day 264 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. With lots of twisty highways, it took almost two hours to drive from The Saco Drive In in Saco ME to Weirs Drive-In Theatre at Weirs Beach in Laconia NH.
The Saco and Weirs are two very old drive-ins, but that’s where the comparison ends. The Saco is a single-screen that is poised for decades to come. The Weirs has four screens, and will probably be sold before the 2018 season begins. On the day I arrived, there was news about that, but first let’s go over its history.
The Weirs was opened as a single screen in 1948 by Harry and Yvonne Gaudet, according to a fine post on the Cinema Obscura blog. Then as now, it was located a stone’s throw from Lake Winnipesaukee, popular with tourists. The blog said that “other than a brief period,” the Weirs stayed in the Gaudet family until 1974, when they sold it to Lawrence and Patricia Baldi. The blog said the Baldis added a second screen “in the 80s” though it still appears as a single screen in the 1988 International Motion Picture Almanac. Two more screens came later, and that’s where we are now.
Lawrence passed away in 2011, and the big news came in 2015 when Patricia, now in her mid 70s, announced that she was putting the Weirs for sale with an asking price of $2.5 million. She told the New Hampshire Union Leader that she couldn’t keep up with the drive-in any longer. “It’s too much for me. I have mixed feelings, it’s time to move on,” she said. Despite the planned sale, the Weirs upgraded to digital projection later that year.
In August 2017, Ms. Baldi got that asking price from Al Mitchell, a developer who also owns a 1-acre parcel adjacent to the Weirs. He told The Laconia Daily Sun that he plans to build condominium units, an event center, a hotel and other businesses. The apparent final night for the drive-in was Labor Day, Sept. 4, commemorated in the Concord Monitor and elsewhere.
But on Sept. 21, just before I rolled in, the Daily Sun announced that the sale had fallen through “after an initial study showed it to be in an archeologically important area where the potential for Native American artifacts could increase the costs of development.” Mitchell said he was “beyond disappointed,” and the property went back on the market for $2.6 million. “If no buyer emerges, Baldi said there is even a chance she could re-open the drive-in next summer.” We’ll see.
The video of the day comes straight from NECN, New England’s News Leader, from May 2015 when the Weirs was put up for sale.
It’s weird to visit a drive-in when I’m not sure that it’ll be active next year. I’m sorry to have missed out on its last days, if that’s what they were. Here’s hoping it’ll return next spring.
Miles Today / Total: 74 / 31033 (rounded to the nearest mile)
Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 166
Nearby Restaurant: The Kellerhaus offers an ice cream smorgasbord. I didn’t even know that was a thing. That sounds a lot better than “make your own sundae,” and it’s closer to the feel of adding several flavors of homemade ice cream to a dish and carrying it through an amazing variety of toppings. I didn’t have time for the breakfast waffles, but I’ll bet they are just as good.
Where I Virtually Stayed: There are plenty of summer motels around here, looking a little quieter as the days cool off, and the one I chose was the Grand View Motel. The views really are nice, my room was clean and comfortable with the full set of modern amenities, and the price was very reasonable. Plus, the Kellerhaus is right next door.
Only in Laconia: Native Americans used Weirs Beach as a summer camp for hunting and fishing as long ago as 8000 BC, according to the Lake Winnipesaukee Museum. The native Abenaquis built a special type of basket, called a weir, to capture the abundant fish (shad) that migrated through the Weirs Channel on their way from Lake Winnipesaukee to the Merrimac River to the sea.
Next stop: Milford Drive-In Theater, Milford NH.