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Warner Theatre Shines On in Morgantown

By Staff | Aug 12, 2008

Few cities of Morgantown’s size are blessed with a treasure like the Warner Theatre.  Located on High Street, it is a notable work of art deco architecture, an unofficial landmark in Morgantown’s Historic District, and a haven to the city’s cinephile population.

But it is also much more than that. It is an integral and irreplaceable part of the texture of Morgantown and something altogether too rare these days: An independent business interested not only in profiting, but also in giving something tremendous back to the community that supports it. 

The Warner’s history begins June 12, 1931, when the theater opened to the general public. To quote the theater’s own history text, it was “[b]uilt by [the Hollywood giants,] the Warner Brothers, [Harry, Major Albert, and Jack], at a cost of $400,000.  A state of the art ventilating system was installed in the theater in order to make certain the patrons were comfortable and that the ambient temperature remained approximately 69 degrees at all times. In order to provide the best possible acoustic quality, a special type of absorptive plaster with thousands of tiny holes was applied throughout the theater.”

“Newly invented effect machines were also installed to ensure that sound effects were as realistic as possible[, and t]he interior of the theater was decorated exquisitely through grand architectural structures and brilliant colors.”

Even to this day, their fantastic original 50-foot-high marquee remains: Indeed, it is impossible to walk down High Street at night and not be drawn in by its warm glow.  

But if the history of the Warner is unique — and it is — it is next to the culture of the theater today. 

While Warner Theatre has always had a definite interest in independent and foreign films, changes in Morgantown’s movie theatre marketplace in the last few years brought with them a need for the Warner to innovate and differentiate itself even further.  It is hard to argue they did anything but succeed spectacularly.

“We’ve got ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ playing every third Saturday; we show 35mm prints of other movies, like ‘Back to the Future,’ ‘Ghostbusters,’ ‘Evil Dead,’” says Warner manager Ron Davis.  “Last Halloween we had a great event, actually. There was a Zombie Walk [an event wherein attendees dress as the undead and stumble the streets of a none-the-wiser city] that went from the Mountain Lair to the Warner.  And when they got down here, we showed the original ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and ‘Die and Let Live,’ by a local filmmaker named Justin Channell.”

Such unique events are what feed the loyal fanbase of the theatre.  While many are drawn in due to the theater’s ticket prices — $4 for every show — and their second-run films, Davis says, “Some people come in once a week, two or three times a month.  We see the same people a lot; they come to see whatever we’re showing.” Add to this the fact that attendees actually have a say in what classic films will be brought to the Warner — surveys regularly appear on their Web site, www.thewarnertheatre.com — and it’s simple to see why citizens of Morgantown take such pride in this local moviehouse.

But what is perhaps most endearing about the Warner is the sense of community and contribution it fosters. With gas prices at all-time highs and ticket prices escalating elsewhere, the Warner Theatre is now offering a “Free Summer Celebration.”  Every Sunday afternoon and Monday evening, they are showing free — absolutely, no-cost-or-catch free — 35mm prints of family films, such as “Shrek,” “Over the Hedge,” and “Hook.” 

“We just want to give something back, and get people to downtown to see what it really has to offer. That’s what we’re all about:  providing a service to Morgantown.”

So despite the fact that the theater has now gone 77 years strong, it seems the most exciting chapter of the Warner’s history may be the one being written now. 

“Oh, I think the future is bright for the Warner,” says Davis. “I look forward to celebrating our 100th anniversary.” 

Contact Mike at mmartin@graffitiwv.com