The Saco Drive-In on Route 1 in Saco, believed to be the country’s second oldest drive-in, opened in 1939 with a showing of “Forbidden Music” starring Jimmy Durante. A ticket for an adult cost 35 cents. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

The Saco Drive-In, the oldest drive-in theater in Maine and a city landmark, has been sold to a Portland-based trailer dealership and is closing after more than 80 years in business.

The theater on Route 1 is believed to be the country’s second oldest drive-in and has been a favorite among locals who flocked there each summer to watch double features.

“This is devastating news for our area because this is such a cultural gem and connection to our past that we’re not going to have going forward. To not have that iconic sign (on Route 1) is going to be hard to swallow for a lot of folks. It’s a piece of our identity as Saco,” said Justin Chenette, a former state senator who grew up going to the drive-in with his parents and friends.

The property was sold to Hale Trailer Brake & Wheel, the largest independent trailer dealership in North America, according to a list of January transactions by The Boulos Company. The listing said Hale Trailer had been searching for land in Greater Portland since 2020 to “substantially increase” both its building footprint and outdoor area. The sale price for the 33-acre lot was not disclosed. The seller was listed as Roberge Construction, Inc.

“The past 2 years have been a challenge. Owning the property since 1986, selling the drive-in was one of the hardest decisions we had to make,” the owners wrote in a Facebook announcement of the sale. “Covid played a part in our decision from having to operate at reduced capacity, inconsistent supply chains, staffing shortages, movie shortages and online streaming to name a few. It has been our pleasure serving you and appreciate everyone who supported us. Thank you!”

The drive-in owners and Hale Trailer management did not respond to interview requests Tuesday.


The closure of the Saco Drive-In leaves only six drive-in theaters in Maine. The others are located in Westbrook, Bridgton, Skowhegan, Farmington, Herman and Madawaska.

The theater was called the Motor-In Theatre when it was opened in 1939 by Eugene V. Boragine, an Italian immigrant who called it “the showplace of Maine.” Its first feature was “Forbidden Music,” starring Jimmy Durante, and a ticket for an adult cost 35 cents. The name was changed to Saco Drive-In in the 1950s.

In 2013, the Saco Drive-In and many of the 400 other drive-in theaters across the country faced closure with a conversion to a digital projection systems. The community rallied behind the Saco theater to help raise money for the conversion. The theater also won a national contest to provide it with a new digital projection system.

“The drive-in is so much bigger than just a small business or anything I’ve put into it. It’s an escape for families from the financial difficulties everyone is facing today. For me to be a part of preserving that is a feeling like no other. It feels like we’ve accomplished a lot more today than just saving the drive-in,” Ry Russell, the manager at the time, said after the theater won the contest.

Camille Smalley, who worked at the Dyer Library and Saco Museum at the time, explored the history of the drive-in for her 2014 book, “The Saco Drive-In: Cinema Under the Sky.”

“People in the ’50s and the ’60s took their kids in their big old cars, dressed them in their pajamas, let them run and play, enjoyed some popcorn and then took them home. And people still do that,” Smalley said in a phone interview Tuesday. “There aren’t a lot of those things left, where the family experiences are the same.”


Even during an unprecedented time like the coronavirus pandemic, Smalley recalled the theater as a community gathering space for movies and more. When her daughter was unable to perform for a live audience during dance recitals, family members and friends went to the drive-in to watch a video of the recital.

“Even though that’s not how you’d normally enjoy a recital, it was kind of a nice way to get people together,” Smalley said.

The drive-in also was the site of numerous high school graduation ceremonies during the pandemic.


News of the drive-in’s sale prompted dozens of social media comments from people who viewed movies there over the years. Among them was Jeff Guerra, who learned of the closure form the theater’s post on Tuesday.

Every summer in the mid-70s, Guerra would travel from Massachusetts to Ocean Park, where he stayed at a Christian campground. His favorite part of the trip was the visit his group made to the Saco Drive-In, which left such an impression on him that he continued taking his own kids there as an adult. Over the years, they saw new releases, like the “Transformers” series and “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and classics like “Jaws” and “Grease.”


“(It was) an opportunity for the kids to go to the movies in their pajamas and run around at the base of the screen and eat popcorn and have a great time,” Guerra said.

Now that his daughter lives in Saco, Guerra has made it up a couple times in the last five years.

“The community misses out on an opportunity for families to hang out and turn off their phones, put down their tablets, and just sit and enjoy,” Guerra said. “People have home theaters now. But you miss out on being outside and dealing with nature and being with other people. When you go there, it’s like a community.”

Chenette, who helped with the effort to upgrade the projection system, said he had hoped the digital conversion would “save the drive-in for decades and generations to come.”

“People feel that they’re a part of the Saco Drive-In because of how much we’ve grown up with it,” he said. “We all feel that we owned a piece of that place.”

Press Herald Staff Writer Emily Allen contributed to this report.

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