Downer Theatre

2589 N. Downer Avenue,
Milwaukee, WI 53211

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Downer Theatre, Milwaukee, WI

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The Downer Theatre opened in 1915, and was soon recognized as one of the most modern urban movie houses of the day, and became a model for subsequent neighborhood theaters. Not only did the elegantly Classical style Downer Theatre have its own Weickhardt Pipe Organ, but its own in-house orchestra.

Acquired in 1990 by the Landmark chain, it became a twin screen theater, but was given a badly needed renovation that was respectful of its history. Gold leaf was reapplied, the auditorium was repainted, and carpeting that duplicated the orginal 1915 carpeting was laid in the lobby and auditorium floors.

The Downer Theatre is the oldest operating cinema in the city of Milwaukee and specializes in art and foreign films.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 18 comments)

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on May 23, 2007 at 8:42 am

Here is a 2007 photo of the Downer Theater.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on July 13, 2007 at 12:22 pm

A more recent photo can be seen here.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on September 23, 2007 at 12:20 pm

A Wurlitzer theater organ opus 1630 style “E” was installed in the Downer Theater on 5/2/1927.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on October 24, 2007 at 5:07 pm

Here is a recent close-up view of the Downer marquee.

Lost Memory
Lost Memory on January 6, 2008 at 11:52 am

This is a December 2007 photo.

LouisRugani on June 11, 2010 at 5:53 pm

(April 19, 1930)
Theatre Deal Goes In Effect At Midnight

Warner Brothers To Take Over Sheboygan Theatre And Other Theatres In Wisconsin

It was unofficially announced today that Warner Bros, one of the leading film companies in the United States, has taken over the Wisconsin branch of the Universal Theatrical Enterprises chain of theatres, and that the concern will assume ownership at 12 o'clock midnight tonight and will start operating these theatres Sunday.
Theatres included are the Sheboygan theatre, which was erected at a cost of $600,000 and which was opened to the public in 1928; Venetian theatre at Racine, Kenosha theatre at Kenosha, and all the Universal theatres in Milwaukee except the Alhambra. Among the Milwaukee theatres are the Lake, State, Downer, Juneau, Nation and Kosciuszko.
The deal, which has been in the course of consummation during the past week, involves millions of dollars in theatre values.
Manager K. G. Wood of the Sheboygan theatre today would not make official comment as to the completion of negotiations, but admitted that he was notified late Friday to take a complete inventory of his theatre, and to check meters at the close of business tonight.
The Sheboygan theatre is one of the most up to date in the state chain. It is equipped with the latest Western electric sound equipment, with new changes and installations made from time to time as improvements are made in the sound facilities. The theatre in Spanish atmospheric design has a seating capacity of 1,600.

TLSLOEWS on September 15, 2010 at 5:50 pm

What a great Name for a theatre.

Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois
Ret. AKC (NAC) CCC Bob Jensen, Manteno, Illinois on August 2, 2013 at 7:59 am

That Weickhardt Pipe Organ that was in the theatre when it was first open was made by the Wangerin-Weickhardt Organ Company, 112-124 South Burrell Street, Milwaukee, just 8 miles South from the theatre. They had another factory Southeast around the corner .2 miles, at 117-121 South Austin Street and by World War II had a factory less than 2 miles North at 2330 South Burrell Street. Founded in 1895, they made over 1,000 mostly church organs. During the theater organ boom in the 1920’s the Barton Organ Company of Oshkosh, Wisconsin could not keep up with production demand. This factory stepped in to assist Barton and provided space as a second manufacturing facility during the years. They made wood parts for aeroplanes during World War I and in World War II made things of wood that had been made of metal so metal could be used for defense. Does anyone know what happened to the Weickhardt organ?

The Wondering WurliTizer

A Mighty Wurlitizer Theater Pipe Organ, Opus 1630, 2/7, manual/ranks, keyboards/sets of pipes, was shipped 640 miles from the WurliTizer factory in North Tonawanda, New York, on May 2, 1927. It had a curved console, 511 pipes, 18 notes cathedral chimes, 37 notes xylophone, 30 notes glockenspiel, 49 notes chrysoglott, bass drum, kettle drum, cymbal, crash cymbal, snare drum, tambourine castanets, Chinese block, tom tom, sleigh bells, triangle, horse hoofs, surf, bird, siren, auto horn, fire gong, steamboat whistle, machine gun and door bell.

It was later sold and shipped 307 miles to a Lutheran church in Iona, Michigan.

In June, 1972 it was sold and shipped 242 miles to the Windsor Theater Organ Club in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.

This last location is 14 miles from North Tonawanda, New York, the location where the WurliTizer was born!

Anyone know what’s happened to the organ in the last 41 years since June of 1972?

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