BRIDGTON — The Bridgton Twin Drive-in Theatre opened June 14, 1957, when the Jayne Mansfield movie “The Girl Can’t Help It” and a Western titled “The Last Wagon” were screened back to back.

At the time, drive-in theaters were at the peak of their popularity. From 1950 to 1957, the number of drive-ins in America leaped from 1,817 to 4,007.

John Tevanian, whose family has owned and operated the Bridgton Twin Drive-in Theatre since 1971, said he is looking forward to celebrating its 60th anniversary by re-screening the inaugural films from 7 p.m. to midnight June 14.

“We’ve been doing a Retro Film series during the summer for the last three years, where we air older movies on Tuesday,” Tevanian said. “A few weeks ago, I was going through the list of 20th Century Fox movies that were available to screen as a retro film, and when I came across ‘The Girl Can’t Help It’ and ‘The Last Wagon,’ I realized it would be a fun thing to do in honor of the theater.”

In a twist of fate, the theater’s 60th anniversary falls on a Tuesday, making it a perfect fit for the Retro Film Series.

Tevanian’s family has been involved in the drive-in theater business, in one form or another, since 1953, when his father and his uncle built the Pride’s Corner Drive-In Theater in Westbrook.

“They ran it together for some years,” Tevanian said. “In 1971, my father learned the Bridgton Drive-In Theater was up for sale and bought it.”

Tevanian, born in 1968, said he “knows nothing but drive-ins.”

“As a kid, I stayed out of the way for the most part, but I was still around it constantly,” he said, laughing as he reminisced. “By the time I was ready to go to college, I was basically doing everything that had to be done in the theater.”

Tevanian said the theater has had its ups and downs over 60 years, with the 1980s serving as the most dire decade.

“In the mid-1980s, it was the lowest point in the drive-in business,” he said. “It wasn’t just in Maine. It was throughout the whole country.”

He attributed the dip in drive-in popularity to the release of VCRs and VCR tapes.

However, the audience began trickling back into movie theaters and drive-ins in the mid-1990s, Tevanian said.

“At first, I didn’t believe it,” he said. “I thought it was just a fluke, but business kept going up, and things really turned around. It turned around to the point that I thought about adding a second screen to the theater.”

The second screen was approved by Tevanian and his father in 1996, but it wasn’t constructed until 2000.

Tevanian said Maine had more than 40 drive-in theaters in the 1970s.

Now, it has only five.

He said a lot of movie and drive-in theaters are shutting down because of the high cost of switching from film to digital projectors.

When he was faced with the same decision a couple of years ago, he said, “in addition to paying for the projectors, we would have to do something about the building that the projectors are in.”

“You need climate control for that kind of equipment,” he said. “Converting to digital would mean doing something about the building that the projector is in. They were 1950s facilities. Renovating the building would have been the same thing as putting lipstick on a pig. I had to decide whether to go all in or all out.”

For Tevanian, stepping away from a theater that had loomed over his entire life wasn’t an option. He opted to go all in, installing the digital projectors and constructing a building for them.

“I was born into this business, and I didn’t want to walk away and think, ‘What if?’ somewhere down the line,” Tevanian said. “This is a fun business. Sure, there are a few headaches here and there, but you always remember the people who say they were happy here, and that tell you they hope you’re always here.”

He said he believes drive-in theaters have a better future than cinemas.

“It’s tough to duplicate the drive-in experience at home,” he said. “People have kitchens at their house where they can make dinner, but they still go out to eat at restaurants. That’s how I see drive-in theaters. I honestly believe the drive-in theaters that are still around will be here in 20 years.”

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What: 60th anniversary celebration

Where: Bridgton Twin Drive-In Theatre, 383 Portland Road, Bridgton

When: 7 p.m. to midnight, Tuesday, June 14.

Films:  “The Girl Can’t Help It” and “The Last Wagon”

Cost: $5 per car


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