In 1981, Jeff and Kathy Frank purchased the Drexel Theatre business and owned it for the next 30 years. They closed the worn-down theatre for one month to renovate the interior and make it more compatible with its original 1930s design. They reopened the Drexel on October 27, 1981, with a gala celebration featuring guest of honor Ginger Rogers who introduced her 1935 movie Top Hat.

In addition to classic movies, such as Alfred Hitchcock re-releases, the Franks took a risk on foreign, documentary, and art films, as these genres were not being screened in Columbus at the time. The format proved successful, and put the Drexel on the industry map, establishing its national reputation as an arthouse for independent film.