By Joel Crabtree
From our May 2023 issue
Last summer, the big screen at the Saco Drive-In went dark, after the family that owned the theater for the past 36 years sold the property to a trailer dealership. The closure didn’t exactly come as a surprise. Thousands of drive-ins, screens aglow, used to dot the national landscape. Now, they number in the hundreds. In Maine, where once there were dozens, only a handful remain. But the Saco is the rare drive-in getting a second chance, because Aquaboggan Water Park, directly across the street, bought the projector from the old owners, built a new screen, and has been working with the trailer dealership to relocate the classic roadside marquee and other odds and ends. Last December, the new Saco Drive-In screened The Grinch for a Toys for Tots fundraiser and toy drive. Now, it’s coming into its first full season. “It’s not the same drive-in, but our goal is to keep as much history and culture as we can,” Aquaboggan general manager Ethan Mongue said. “We’re really excited to keep this in the community.”
Run-time, in minutes, of 1936’s black-and-white talkie Forbidden Music, the first film screened at the Saco Drive-In. It starred Jimmy Durante, who’d cut his teeth in vaudeville.
Price of an adult ticket when the drive-in first opened. At Aquaboggan, the cost is $25 per vehicle for up to three people, with $5 per additional passenger.
The prohibitive cost of a digital projector the Saco won in an online contest run by automaker Honda in 2013, replacing the Saco’s reel projector. Without converting to digital, the theater would have closed back then.
Year that Aquaboggan — home to slides, a lazy river, and a wave pool — opened. Fittingly, Maine’s oldest water park has revived Maine’s oldest drive-in.
Oldest drive-in in the U.S., opened in 1939. Fair question whether the Saco can still claim that rank after the move, but the answer won’t much bother local cinemagoers either way.