The Downer Theatre, a Milwaukee landmark since 1915, stands as one of the oldest cinemas in the United States.

Nestled in the heart of Milwaukee's vibrant East Side, this historic theatre has been a beacon for film enthusiasts for over a century. With its classic marquee lighting up North Downer Avenue, the Downer Theatre has evolved from a silent movie house to a premier destination for independent, foreign, and art films. Its intimate auditoriums offer a nostalgic glimpse into cinema's golden days, while its commitment to showcasing groundbreaking storytelling keeps it at the forefront of Milwaukee's cultural scene.

Our aim is to revitalize The Downer Theatre to continue charming moviegoers, combining the nostalgia of the past with the innovative spirit of the present, making every visit a unique experience in Milwaukee's rich cinematic history.

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Help us Save The Downer

We are saving The Downer Theatre and there are many ways you can help!


    Your donations will help us bring the Downer Theatre back to its glory days!


    Your Membership goes even further now with two historical cinemas in the Milwaukee Film Family.


    Join us for the 2024 Milwaukee Film Festival and be the first in line when we reopen the doors!


Downer Theatre: A Legacy of Milwaukee Cinema

  • Historic Milestone:
    • Established in 1915, the Downer Theatre stood as Milwaukee's oldest operating movie theater until its closure in September 2023.
  • Architectural Marvel and Modern Innovations:
    • Originally celebrated for its modern urban design and elegant Classical style, the Downer featured its own Weickhardt Pipe Organ and an in-house orchestra. It underwent a significant transformation in 1937 to the Streamline Modern style, showcasing its dedication to evolving cinematic experiences.
  • Preservation and Renovation:
    • Acquired by Landmark Theatre Corporation in 1990, the Downer Theatre was respectfully renovated to honor its storied past. Efforts included reapplication of gold leaf, repainting of the auditorium, and replication of the original 1915 lobby and auditorium carpeting.
  • Cultural and Historical Significance:
    • Built by notable developer Marc Brachman and cinema pioneers Thomas and John Saxe, the Downer Theatre was a landmark in Milwaukee's N. Downer Avenue Business district, recognized for its historical character even after 1930s facade updates. With an initial seating capacity for 940 patrons, the theater adapted over time to a twin-screen format accommodating 465 viewers, ensuring a blend of historical charm and modern cinema technology.

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