By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Sep 19, 2023 at 10:31 PM Photography: Bobby Tanzilo

In news that is tragically expected considering the still-struggling state of movie exhibition but is no less tragically heartbreaking, the Downer Theatre on the East Side has closed. 

Tuesday marked the last day for the longtime neighborhood theater, owned and operated by the national theatrical chain Landmark Theaters since 1989. 

"Landmark's Downer Theatre is now closed," reads a post on the Downer's official Facebook page. "We are proud to have served its community over its many years of operation. We thank you for your support."

The Downer marks the fourth movie theater closing in southeastern Wisconsin over the past month. Earlier this month, Marcus Theatres announced that it was closing the Showtime in Franklin, Saukville and Milwaukee-based Southgate locations – the first on Sept. 5, the latter two on Sept. 17. Since COVID, Milwaukee has also lost the Fox Bay Cinema Grill in Whitefish Bay – closed in 2020 – and still awaits the reopening of the Rosebud Cinema, which was the topic of a recent community meeting about its future

The Downer Theatre represented the oldest operating movie theater in Milwaukee, opened all the way back in 1915. To read more about the century-old history of the Downer, read Bobby Tanzilo's Urban Spelunking story from when the cinema turned 100 years old in 2015. 

Thanks for all the movies and all the memories, Downer Theatre – the place where, personally, I saw my first independent movie as a 12-year-old movie nerd and so, so many other films after. And here's to hopefully somebody moving into the theater sooner than later and making sure this isn't the neighborhood cinema's final act.

In fact, on Wednesday, Milwaukee Film, Downer Avenue Business Improvement District and Bridge33 Capital – the group that owns the building itself – put out a joint release hinting at discussions about the theater's future.

"We have enjoyed seeing the growth of this vibrant corridor," said Bridge33 Capital Chief Investment Officer Julio Siberio, in the release. "We remain committed to continuing our efforts for commercial and community success and are excited for what the future holds.” 

“We have high hopes in finding a solution that continues to respect the tradition and historical integrity surrounding this incredible theatre that’s been a foundational institution in Milwaukee's beloved Downer Avenue Commercial District for more than a century," said Michael DeMichele, president of the Downer Avenue Business Improvement District, in the release.

“We are honored to be a part of this active conversation and excited about this possibility,” Milwaukee Film’s CEO Jonathan Jackson said, in the release. "We will always champion fostering cinematic spaces and artistic voices and experiences in our community to bring people together any way we can."

Stay tuned to OnMilwaukee for any updates. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.