Jeramey Jannene

Downer Theater Reopens To Big Crowd

Milwaukee Film kicks off stewardship of historic cinema with near-capacity crowd.

By - Apr 12th, 2024 07:34 pm
A large crowd awaits the reopening of the Downer Theatre. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A large crowd awaits the reopening of the Downer Theatre. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Judging by the long lines spotted outside the Downer Theatre Friday morning, Milwaukee Film made an award-winning move in taking over the historic cinema.

The two-screen cinema, the city’s oldest operating theater, shuttered last September when national chain Landmark Theatres pulled out. It reopened Friday, with Milwaukee Film showing the documentary Shari & Lamb Chop to a near-capacity crowd as the first screening at the revived theater.

“This is super exciting for me, this is super exciting for the neighborhood, this is super exciting for Milwaukee Film, but really, it’s super exciting for the entire city of Milwaukee,” said Mayor Cavalier Johnson at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The reopening occurred on the first full day of the 16th annual Milwaukee Film Festival. The documentary was shown Thursday night at the Oriental Theatre as the opening night film for the 15-day festival. The Oriental was also formerly a Landmark-operated theater, but in 2017 Milwaukee Film acquired the lease to the three-screen cinema.

Johnson was joined Friday by the nonprofit organization’s interim CEO Anne Reed, board chair Susan Mikulay, area alderman Jonathan Brostoff and several Milwaukee Film board and staff members.

The mayor, who envisions growing the city to one million residents, said the theater’s reopening on the city’s East Side is part of building the city’s appeal. “It places like this… that help us get to that next level,” said the mayor. He issued a proclamation declaring it Downer Theatre Day throughout the city.

While he spoke, a steady stream of people queued up to enter the documentary screening. Eight showings of various films and shorts are scheduled to be shown at the cinema Friday, with 30 showings spread across the Downer, Oriental, Times Cinema and Avalon Theater.

The Downer, 2589 N. Downer Ave., opened in 1915 and had been operated by Landmark since 1989. It had long been an anchor institution on the Upper East Side commercial street, with Landmark dividing the cinema into a two-screen setup, but maintaining much of its historic integrity. It has 465 seats in its current configuration. Bridge33 acquired much of the Downer Avenue commercial strip, including the Downer Theatre space, in 2020 for $11.25 million.

The 2024 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from April 11 through April 25. A full list of showings is available on the festival website.

The Oriental Theatre isn’t without change. Thursday night, the public got its first chance to see and hear the Abele Cinema’s new (from 1925) Wurlitzer organ. See our October coverage of how the cinema lost its prior organ and acquired a new one.


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One thought on “Downer Theater Reopens To Big Crowd”

  1. TosaGramps1315 says:

    SO GOOD TO SEE THIS! Congratulations to MKE Film,

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