It’s Day 319 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Driving through the hills and forest of West Virginia, it took me 2½ hours to drive from Warner’s Drive-In in Franklin to the Sunset Drive-In Theater just south of Shinnston in the unincorporated area called Meadowbrook.
When the Sunset opened in 1947, it was owned by Alex Sidan and Steve Medue, Jr., who together owned several other theaters in the region. According to a story on the West Virginia Historic Theatre Trail web site, it has been owned by the Ellis family since 1955, along with the adjacent Sunset Ellis Restaurant.
According to the book Around Shinnston by Robert P. Bice III, when John Ellis bought the Sunset, the concession stand / restaurant was an old streetcar. (There’s a great photo of that converted streetcar and another of the old sign behind the screen at WeHeartWV.com.) The Ellis family remodeled it into a real building in 1960.
The year-round restaurant and the drive-in have stayed in the family ever since. “My family leased it out for about 20 years, but my Uncle John took over after that and has run it for the past 16 years,” Antoinette Ellis-Casto told the Shinnston News last year. That lease was to Jim Henderson, who later bought the Grafton Drive-In, which closed in 2014. Unlike the Grafton, the Sunset converted to digital projection.
Although some of the in-car speakers on the grounds still work, the Sunset uses FM radio sound. Looking back at the screen, a full residence is there at its base and three stories’ worth of windows on the other side, as seen in the photos at the Eccentric Roadside blog. And that screen is so close to US Highway 19 that its marquee is on the opposite side.
The Sunset celebrated its 70th anniversary this year, and it was one of the inspirations for the embedded YouTube video of the day. RoganRadio has posted several videos about the Sunset, including some very nice drone footage, and this one is from August.
Too bad the night I was virtually there was in mid-November, when the drive-in was closed for the season.
Miles Today / Total: 126 / 36135 (rounded to the nearest mile)
Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 190
Nearby Restaurant: Well of course I had to have dinner at the Ellis Restaurant at the drive-in. Although I was tempted by the all-day breakfast, I took advantage of the daily special because it had been a long time since I’d eaten spaghetti. It came with the salad bar and garlic bread, and the price was great. I can see how this place stays open all year long.
Where I Virtually Stayed: There’s a Hampton Inn less than six miles from the Sunset in Bridgeport. That was easy. There were cookies and coffee waiting at check-in. My room had the full set of modern amenities. Breakfast was solid Hampton with chunks of sausage in the biscuit gravy. I was glad that this night’s lodging was such a no-brainer.
Only in Shinnston: There’s a large scrap metal statue of a coal miner named Charlie standing 21 feet tall in Shinnston. According to Eccentric Roadside, Charlie was commissioned in 1999 by Phil Southern as a tribute to his father who was killed in a coal mine in 1951.
Next stop: Dependable Drive-In, Moon PA.