Nov. 8: Pipestem Drive-In, Speedway WV

It’s Day 312 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Winding down WV Highway 20 most of the way, it took me less than an hour to drive from the Meadow Bridge Drive-In, in Meadow Bridge WV of course, to the Pipestem Drive-In north of Speedway WV.

The Pipestem was late to the first wave of drive-in construction, probably opening on October 5, 1972. There was a “Watch for the opening date” ad in the Sept. 21 Beckley Post-Herald, then on Sept. 30 there was an ad for a triple feature that “starts Thursday, Oct. 5”. The movies that night were Le Mans (rated G), Lawman (GP), and Southern Comfort (X).

The Raleigh Register of July 5, 1973, in the middle of an article discussing the legality of X-rated movies, identified Ronald Warden of MacArthur as the owner of the Pineville and Pipestem drive-ins. Warden said then-recent Supreme Court rulings hadn’t changed his plans. “It’s not for the money involved,” he said. “It’s not what we like – it’s what the public pays to see. I don’t want to quit a good thing until I have to. Every time I don’t have an X-rated show, business drops off.” He stressed that he always showed X-rated movies as the third feature.

The drive-in’s first appearance on my shelf of International Motion Picture Almanacs was the 1978 edition. (It wasn’t in 1976, and I don’t have 1977.) The Pipe Stem (sic) was owned by R. Warden and had a capacity of 285. That’s how it stayed through the last IMPA list in 1988.

In 2012, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph wrote that Kenneth Woody owned the Pipestem Drive-In and had been coming to the theater for nearly three decades before purchasing it. “We try to show family-oriented films and try to keep in that line of stuff,” Woody said.

WTRF, Wheeling’s News Leader, wrote in 2015 that Woody bought the Pipestem in 2007 “from the original owner”, which would have been Warden or his family, I guess, “because he did not want to see it shut down.”

The owner and his drive-in keep a low profile, making it harder to find out any of this history and stuff. “Woody, the owner of three other Mercer County businesses, said he depends solely on regular customers and word-of-mouth and does no advertising,” WTRF wrote. Even the Pipestem’s web site is just a semi-official thing on Drive-Ins.org.

One more note: I’m not 100% sure that Woody still owns the Pipestem. Sure, daughter Karen Woody wrote on that Drive-Ins.org page that her family owns the Pipestem. The WV Secretary of State shows that Pipestem Drive-In Theater, Inc., with officers Kenneth and Barbara Woody, was incorporated in 2007 and has filed reports through 2017. However, I’ve seen several business sources online that claim the Pipestem Drive-Inn (sic?) Theatre, same phone number, is owned by Jimmy Warden, and that its president is Patricia Warden. Is that an echo of the ownership before Woody bought it, or something else?

At any rate, the drive-in closed for the season several weeks ago. It’s another dark night for me.

Miles Today / Total: 38 / 35196 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 188

Nearby Restaurant: I stopped for lunch at Moe’s American, Greek & Italian Restaurant in Athens just south of the Pipestem. Of those options, I chose the pizza, which might have been more American than Italian because it came with the kind of New York-style thin crust that I prefer. I also saw a Philly cheesesteak on the menu – is that Greek or Italian?

Where I Virtually Stayed: The kind of hotels I tend to frequent were in a cluster in Princeton WV about 12 miles south. And since one of those was a Hampton Inn, well that’s the kind of hotel I really frequent. A Cracker Barrel was just across the quiet cul de sac, which was great for dinner. This Hampton had cookies and a popcorn machine at check-in in the lobby, which was a pleasant surprise, and its breakfast was the very nice Hampton standard.

Only in Speedway: Since Speedway is just a little unincorporated place, I’ll talk about Athens, a true town just south of Speedway and home to Concord University, which was founded in 1872. The town used to be called Concord too, but somebody noticed in 1896 that there was another Corcord in West Virginia, so it renamed itself after the famous Greek center of learning.

Next stop: Park Place Drive In, Marion VA.

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