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The Downer Theatre
June 19, 2010
Near Milwaukee’s Upper East Side nestled in the middle of a quiet block is The Downer Theatre. Built in 1915, it’s one of the first neighborhood theaters in the country. Most of the area is still old. The sidewalks have grown dark gray with age, but the many brick buildings that surround The Downer are in good condition. The neighborhood is alive and vibrant. A new multistory bank reflects in windows from across the street.
The theater is managed and cared for by people who love film and cinemas and who have a knowledge and respect for history. John can tell you about many of the area’s great old neighborhood theaters and movie palaces– live and those that are gone — with a knowledge that belies his years. He talks about the old, closed theaters with a sense of loss.
There’s an old man named Warren who walks the neighborhood daily when the weather is good. He wears a coat and tie and walks the streets, in and out of establishments, simply to say hello and have a chat with those who work there. Today, we talked old films on a big screen. And Cubs. And how he saw Packer great Don Hutson play at Wrigley Field all those years ago. And how he’d love for his doctor to be right when he told him that he’ll live long enough to see The Brewers win a World Series. “Do you know how old I’ll be? I’ll be a hundred and twenty five!”
Toolbox: Perfectly Clear, CameraBag, FocalLab
We shook hands, said our good byes, and I went off to join Stacy for lunch. I didn’t get to photograph Warren — some moments you just don’t need to — although his years, character and charisma would have made for an interesting portrait. Later, that afternoon, we saw Warren slowly walking his way back to his home. The elbows of his jacket sleeves had worn through and had been fixed with duct tape.
Makes sense to me.