By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Aug 23, 2023 at 3:47 PM

The Rosebud Cinema Drafthouse, 6823 W. North Ave., in East Tosa, has been closed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, even as its sister theaters – The Avalon and The Times – have returned to business as usual.

Now, there is to be a community discussion about the future of the theater and potentially running it as a 'community-led nonprofit' on Saturday, Sept. 9 at 1 p.m. at the Rosebud.

“Due to several factors, the Rosebud Cinema has been closed since March 2020. For almost 100 years, this community institution has been a meaningful part of our neighborhood and its absence is felt by many,” reads a message that meeting organizer Dave Celata – a neighborhood resident – sent out and which was reposted by others on Facebook.

“A meeting is being organized to explore the idea of reopening the theater and operating it as a community-led nonprofit. During this meeting, we'll learn about the current state of the Rosebud (including barriers to reopening as well as opportunities for the future), reimagine how the space could be used, and gauge if there's enough interest within the community to advance this idea.”

Celata, who has discussed the idea with theater owner Lee Barczak, stresses that there is no plan at the moment.

"My goal for this meeting was to see if there was enough energy in the community to take this on," he tells me. "At this time it’s just a high-level concept and there’s not much more to it at this point. And that’s intentional.

"You have to wait and see if there’s that critical mass and energy from the community to drive something forward."

The purpose of the meeting, he adds, is to get a sense of who might be interested in being involved and brainstorm ideas.

Celata adds that Barczak has been "quite genuine and receptive" to a discussion and offered the theater as a site for the meeting.

Ross Baldwin opened the Rosebud in 1931 as the Tosa, and it was sold to Marcus Cinemas in 1940. The theater was the first in the Milwaukee area for Marcus, which owned it until 1999.

Barczak, who owns The Avalon in Bay View and The Times on Vliet Street bought the theater in 2012 after its previous owner, David Glazer, had closed it. Glazer had purchased the venue five years earlier from Jay Hollis, who bought it in 1999.

A couple years ago, the sign out front noted that the Rosebud was hiring and reopening soon. In June, the message was removed and the sign has been blank.

A year ago, the owners posted to the theater's Facebook page that, "We are working towards the reopening. Supply chain problems and hiring issues have slowed things down. We will be informing the public as progress is made, and can provide the level of service our patrons deserve."

If you would like to attend the meeting, click here.

"Honestly, I'm a little overwhelmed with the responses," Celata says. "I just sent out an email less than 24 hours ago. We're quickly getting up to the building's capacity and will need to cut off RSVPs soon."

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.