It was 1939, our country was at peace, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Democrat, was president and, in Saugus, Massachusetts, a brand-new open-air theater appeared at what is now the Marshalls Shopping Center, at the junction of Route One and Lynn Fells Parkway.
In those early years, Saugus was full of things to do, even though automobiles were at a premium. In Cliftondale there was an indoor movie house, in Saugus Center a pool hall and the indoor State Theater, and on the Pike a golf driving range behind Russo’s Candy House and another golf driving range where the present-day Square One Mall sits.
Other entertainment featured several churches hosting dances on the weekends and opened their gyms for weekly basketball games. There was plenty to do in Saugus in 1939.
At a time before home televisions, video games and the Web, the new ‘drive-in theater’ was an added attraction for teenagers and young families to enjoy an evening of entertainment at a reasonable price. Unfortunately, not too many families owned their own vehicles but for those who did, their teenagers took out the weekly trash and made their beds in the hopes of being allowed to borrow the family automobile for a date at the drive-in.
Mr. Richard Boudette patronized the theater in his early dating years quite often. During an interview with him he told me the story of how the ushers knew who had kids in the trunks of the cars and those who didn’t.
The price of admittance was based on per person so some very ingenious patrons packed as many as they could to fit in the trunk. Once the vehicle passed through the ticket taker, “illegal” guests was let out to enjoy the show.
Mr. Boudette explained that all the usher had to do was to see the level of the car. The body of the car full of extra passengers in the trunks were generally tipped to the rear, almost dragging the tail pipe on the street. Some kids just couldn’t figure that out as not all “fully loaded” vehicles made it through the gates.
Norman and Gail Peach often took their three young children with them for a much-needed night out. In those days babysitters were not readily available – either you didn’t have the extra funds, or you couldn’t find anyone willing to take three kids at one time – even immediate family members!
Eddie Murray remembers the greasy egg rolls available at the refreshment stand – this was at the time before any of us knew about fat grams. One could even purchase a mosquito coil that could be lit and then placed on the dashboard to keep the bugs away during the show.
Harry Cakounes was the real celebrity back in the ‘60s. Because of his “family connections,” he was given a yearly pass to attend any and all movies throughout the year. Naturally, Harry was very popular come the weekends - his friends didn’t have to use the trunk!
Harry still has the last pass he was given before the drive-In closed in 1974 and it’s one of his dearest treasures. He also saved a collection of programs given out weekly starting from the first year in 1939.
The very popular drive-In survived throughout the war years by selling war bonds on the side and practicing the dim-outs. Special reduced rates were given to soldiers and those supporting the war effort.
Unfortunately, competition became keen when the Revere Drive-In opened on the present site of the cinema followed by the Lynn Drive-In where Building 19 7/8 was once located. Despite the fog always rolling in around 10 p.m. at the Lynn Drive-In, the newer theaters offered some real high-tech stuff, enticing customers from the Saugus operation.
Today a Democrat is still in the White House and we are at peace, but the screen, the poles and the refreshment stand are gone - taking away all the mementos and memories of a happier time in our lives growing up in Saugus.
This article first appeared in the Saugus Advertiser in February 1997