Saco Hosts World Premiere

Saco Drive-In marquee

photo from the Saco Drive-In Facebook page

The Lewiston ME Sun Journal reported last week that local man J.R. Fortin premiered his web-based video series at the Saco Drive-In last weekend. Fortin shot scenes in at least 10 Maine towns, from Hollis to Mechanic Falls.

The trailer for “Hearts of New England” won the Gold Medal for Best Trailer at the Cleveland International Film Festival earlier this year. It tells the story of three war veterans and their different reactions to life after they return home.

The Sun Journal said that Fortin, who wrote, directed, and starred in the series, was surprised that the Saco would be available. “It was a shot in the dark to see if the theater would say yes,” he said. I just think it’s great that this 80-year-old drive-in can stay relevant in this age of online video.

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.

Sept. 18: Bridgton Twin Drive-In, Bridgton ME

It’s Day 261 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It took almost two hours to drive from the Skowhegan Drive-In, in Skowhegan ME of course, to the Bridgton Twin Drive-In, in Bridgton ME of course.

The Bridgton opened as a single-screen drive-in in 1957. A reference book from 1963 lists the owner as “Daytz-Walter Esley”, which I’m guessing was a partnership since “Daytz Theatre Ent.” owned the Auburn in Danville ME. John Tevanian, who built the Pride’s Corner Drive-In in Westbrook in 1953, bought the Bridgton in 1971. He passed away just this past July at the age of 91.

Tevanian’s son, also named John Tevanian, took over in 1996 according to a story in The Bridgton News. He added a second screen in 2000. From the look of the surrounding land, he must have carved out a chunk of forest to make the second viewing area.

With digital conversion looming in 2013, Tevanian invested $350,000 to triple the size of his concession building and projection booth to be ready for the upgrade. He told the News, “I decided going into this that I was going to be either all in or all out. Well, I’m all in.”

In a 2016 article on, Tevanian was still there, reminiscing on the occasion of the Bridgton’s 60th season. He worked for his father as a kid in the 1970s, when the drive-in was a teenage hangout that played horror movies. When Tevanian left for college in 1986, he said, “the business was collapsing.”

After returning from college, Tevanian saw the clientele shift to families as more kid-friendly movies came around. Now the nostalgia factor brings in the parents while the movies appeal to the kids.

The best video of the day I could find is from WMTW (Portland ME’s News Leader) on YouTube, showing a very snowy Bridgton Twin that had to delay the start of the 2017 season as a result.

At this time of year, the drive-in is only open Fridays and Saturdays, leaving me to relax for a quiet Monday evening.

Miles Today / Total: 100 / 30915 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 166

Nearby Restaurant: When the drive-in in town is closed, the next best thing is a retro diner such as Ricky’s Diner. First, breakfast is served all day, so I’m already happy. There’s a poster of a drive-in marquee on the wall, so that’s another plus. There’s a working jukebox, a checkerboard tile floor, and plenty (though not all) of furniture with red vinyl. I don’t know whether blueberry pancakes are a retro thing, but I sure enjoy them.

Where I Virtually Stayed: With the whole evening to myself, I had plenty of time to relax and enjoy the gentle breeze at Grady’s West Shore Motel. As promised, this is a motel on the west shore of Highland Lake, complete with a sandy beach and hammock. Maybe there wasn’t a fridge in my room, but there were smores by the evening campfire. For a quiet evening, that’s a good tradeoff.

Only in Bridgton: According to Wikipedia, when the Portland and Ogdensburg Railway bypassed Bridgton, the town built the 2-foot-gauge Bridgton and Saco River Railroad link to the national rail network in 1883. After decades of mainly freight service, it became a tourist attraction as the last 2-foot-gauge railroad offering passenger service in the late 1930s. The railroad ceased operations in October 1941, and its rails were converted to scrap metal to fight World War II.

Next stop: Prides Corner Drive-In, Westbrook ME.