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Franklin's Warner Drive-In Theater Holding On

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MARLA PISCIOTTA

For The State Journal

FRANKLIN, WV – Becky McConnell says she remembers Warner's Drive-In as being the gathering place for all the high school kids in the Pendleton County community.

"I graduated in 1979. Warner's was the hot spot for all the high school kids," said McConnell, a librarian in Franklin.

Warner's has been in business since 1952 and is currently owned by the Franklin Oil Co. James Hess and his wife, Nancy, are the current managers.

"We have room for about 250 cars depending on how they park," James Hess said.

The poles holding speakers that detached to hang inside the car for sound are long gone. Bad wiring forced the owners to change to a new system. Audio soundtrack for the movies switched about 15 years ago from hang-on speakers to 91.3 FM on the car radio.

Cars still park on a hill to better view the screen. Warner's screen towers 50 feet up and is 75 feet wide. Families enjoy the laid-back atmosphere and frequently gather on the lawn in front of the screen.

Janet Burgoyne is the executive director of the Pendleton County Chamber of Commerce.

"We moved to Pendleton County four years ago and have gone to the drive-in regularly ever since," said Burgoyne, who lives in nearby Brandywine.

Burgoyne said her kids look forward to the season opening.

"We go quite a bit," she said. "I feel very fortunate to have a drive-in around. It gives the kids a different kind of movie experience. Its family-oriented. Kids play in front of the grassy area in front of the screen. Some people bring chairs. We sit with and enjoy friends and conversation. It's a wonderful community experience."

The snack bar has the best burgers in town, Burgoyne added.

Karen Pitsenbarger, 45, grew up in Pendleton County.

"I've been going to the drive-in all my life," she said. "I love the outdoor atmosphere. It's always been the place for kids to gather."

Pendleton County Commissioner Gene McConnell enjoyed the drive-in as well.

"As a kid I have fond memories of the drive-in. It was the kind of place to go and hang out," he said. "Not much time was spent watching the movie – just hanging out. You know, just talking like kids do."

McConnell said the physical part of the current drive-in is similar to the old.

"They are still using the old projection equipment," he said.

The projection equipment has the carbon-arc lamp that produces a great picture, viewers said. Hess said the former owners found that 90 percent of people attending left after the first movie.

Current movies are shown on Friday and Saturday evenings.

"We started that 15 years ago and it's working out well," Hess said. "We've had ‘Titanic' when it came out. ‘Cars' and ‘Shrek' were really big. ‘Fast and Furious' movies do really well."

Drive-in movie theaters peaked in West Virginia in the mid-1950s. At that time there were approximately 76 drive-ins statewide. Fewer than a dozen are still in operation.

Warner's drive-in helps the Franklin economy, according to Kim Ruddle, administrator of the Pendleton County Economic and Community Development Authority.

 "I lived across from the drive-in. Folks from all around Franklin came early just to eat the burgers and fries," Ruddle said. "It's a wonderful place to go. It has been an economical boost to the county and a wonderful addition to our community."