By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Sep 16, 2021 at 11:01 AM Photography: Lori Fredrich

The former Schlitz tied-house on Humboldt and North – which served as home to rock clubs including Zak’s (1974-1975), Zak’s North Avenue (1976-1985) and The Spruce Goose (1986) – may be given a new life as a mixed use development that includes office space, a lower level bar and eatery and a multi-vendor food park.

The historic property, located at 2249 N. Humboldt Ave. (a.k.a. 1025 E. North Ave.), was possessed by the city following foreclosure in 2018 and put up for sale. But the initial RFP for the property, submitted by Kyle Mack and Todd Hutchison, fell through in 2019 due to financial constraints surrounding the extensive project.

But another proposal, submitted by Clarence Morse, 2019 ACRE graduate and owner of Dark Horse Development, has been accepted by the City of Milwaukee with plans that include the complete restoration of the building, which dates back to 1890, along with improvements to the surrounding property.

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve admired the building,” notes Morse. “My grandmother lived in the area, and I’d spend weekends at her house. My friends and I would  drive our bikes past it fairly frequently on our way to Kadish Park. And, as I got older, I have fond memories of visiting it when it was Zak’s.”

Rendering of plans
Rendering: Yasmine Ogul Designs

The grand plan

Morse says that current plans include the creation of office spaces on both the second and third floors of the building, with the upper floor used as the headquarters for Dark Horse Development.

The main floor would accommodate a bar and eatery (and hopefully a coffee shop) which would be operational rain or shine. Meanwhile, a courtyard would be designed to accommodate food trucks, trailers and/or food vendors, as well as a stage area to allow live entertainment on the property.

The basement, says Morse, would house a commercial kitchen space, which would serve as a home base for outside food vendors, as well as aspiring food entrepreneurs.

Preserving history

Historic photo of Humboldt Gardens building
Photo: provided by Dark Horse Development

The overall goal of the project, he says, is to preserve the historic architecture of the building – including restoring the conical roof that originally rose from  the building’s turret in the 1940s – as well as providing a community gathering place for area residents.

Morse says he’s aware that significant work lies ahead, which could take a year or more to complete.

“The building is in rough shape,” he says. “It’s been damaged by rain that’s gotten in through the roof for years. So, it will take a while to get it water tight, and the goal would be to do so before winter. From there, we'll ensure that the building is structurally sound so we can move ahead.”

When asked about the motivation behind tackling the risks of such a project, Morse shrugs and smiles.

“I really love old buildings,” he says. “And who knows? I might be on a fool’s errand. But the structural damage doesn’t scare me. I've worked with fire and water damage for years. So, I have a lot of hope. I’d really love to turn the building around.”

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.