3169 Petersburg Pike,
Franklin, WV 26807
Charlie Warner and his son Harold opened the Warner’s Drive-In in April of 1952. It quickly became a staple in the community of Franklin, WV, and remained so for more than 50 years. People of all ages used to gather at the drive-in on weekends throughout the warm months of the year. Like most traditional drive-ins, the Warner employed a speaker system on poles throughout the parking area. Over time, the more traditional speaker system was replaced by a more modern method wherein patrons utilize a local radio frequency (FM 91.3) to provide the sound for the movies. Located about two and a half miles north of Franklin on U.S. 220, the drive-in is more than simply a theatre; it is a community gathering spot, that holds about 250 cars comfortably. The next closest theatre is over 30 miles away, and therefore the Warner’s has provided one of the sole opportunities for entertainment in and around Franklin during its lifetime.
Unfortunately, change can often have negative effects, and so when the season ended in 2014 the Warner’s Drive-in shut down. The primary reason for the closing was financial. Studios had switched to a digital projection format for all of their films, and digital projectors were incredibly expensive. This, coupled with the normal operations costs, proved too prohibitive for the people managing the drive-in to continue. The Franklin Oil Company was then faced with the decision of what to do with the property and chose to sell the land to the state. A series of meetings were held to sell the land to West Virginia Department of Highways.
Like so many other drive-ins across the country and throughout the state, this might have been the end for the Warner’s. The meetings between Franklin Oil Company and the Department of Highways did not lead to a sale, and so a fortuitous opportunity was presented. Members of the community took to the newspapers and social media and held public meetings. A groundswell of local support proved that there was a true desire on the part of the community to save the site. A group of concerned citizens formed an organization to preserve this local treasure. In April of 2016, their organization achieved nonprofit status and began the important work of raising the necessary funds to get the operation up and running again. Called the Warner Drive-In Cultural and Resource Center, Inc. (WDI), this organization serves as the primary preservation and fundraising group for the site. One of their first challenges is to raise $150,000 in order to purchase the land outright. WDI has both long-term and short-term plans for the site.
On September 9th, 2015, the reopened Warner Drive-In presented its first film (Finding Dory). It showed other films throughout the weekends of September and October, using the organization’s new digital projector. The showing of films is only the first phase of the new efforts. The group has already updated the concessions area with things like a new grill, popcorn maker, deep fryers, and refrigerators. Plans are currently being completed to construct a stage in front of the screen and a covered pavilion at the back of the property. WDI hopes to utilize the property as a 3-season drive-in theatre, museum (located inside the building behind the screen) and performing arts center. They hope to encourage local classes as well as community members to utilize the site as a gathering space, classroom, and performance venue. With any luck, this will give new life to this local landmark.
If you would like to find out more about the Warner’s Drive-In and current preservation efforts, or to become involved yourself, check out the following links: