Mayor Stimpson (left), Councilwoman Gina Gregory, Councilman John C. Willams, and Councilman Fred Richardson outside Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World in New Orleans yesterday.
Civic Center Bids Do Not Include Replacement
April 30, 2019: Neither of the two proposals still being considered for the city of Mobile’s proposed redevelopment of the Civic Center property includes a new public performance space, according to George Talbot, Director of Communications and External Affairs for the city.
“They are interested in this project as a way to make a profit,” Talbot said.
Currently that does not include any kind of replacement for the Civic Center.
That’s despite the fact that in late 2017, Mayor Sandy Stimpson said one of the three main goals of the redevelopment would be to provide a space for public needs, one that would “serve the purposes for which the original facility was built.”
About a year ago, the city solicited bids for an expansive multi-use development on the Civic Center site, including apartments or condominiums, retail space, and public performance space.
The Civic Center, which opened in 1964, has fallen into disrepair, and Stimpson has been on a campaign for several years now to do away with the facility rather than fix it.
Just a month ago, Talbot informed the media that only two of five proposals were still under consideration, and the secret committee studying those proposals could award the job to one company or the other in a month or so.
Even after that announcement, Talbot emphasized yesterday, things will not be set in stone, and the building of a civic-center-like-space would be “part of the negotiations.” That, Talbot said, is “where the public-private part comes in.”
Generally, cities can trade tax abatements, infrastructure, and even money in return for the developer building something.
As host to at least 17 Mardi Gras balls and events per year, the Civic Center complex has been of intense interest to the Mardi Gras community. Stimpson has attempted to work with several members of the Mardi Gras community in an effort to transition those events from the Civic Center, at least temporarily.
Just last week, about seven members of the Mardi Gras community were invited to tour a pre-World War II warehouse at Brookley that’s referred to simply as 23 East. The building has played host to several local events in recent years.
Located at 1886 Fifth Street, several blocks east from where Michigan Avenue hits I-10. It’s not at all far from Fort Whiting, where several smaller Mardi Gras groups host their balls.
However, it does not have heat or air conditioning, and some of those who have seen the space said tableaus – a very big part of most Mardi Gras balls – could not be performed there.
And just yesterday, Stimpson invited three city council members and a handful of Mardi Gras folks to visit Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World in New Orleans. That facility, built on the Mississippi River, houses a number of floats owned by the Kern organization, the largest float builder in New Orleans.
Some float building also goes on the facility, so that the 150,000-plus tourists, who pay $22 apiece to go through the building, can be schooled in the art of float building. The majority of float building still goes on at the Kern facility across the river.
Stimpson and the others also observed a small convention that was hosted in the Kern barn last night. The point, Talbot said, was to demonstrate the possibilities of a large warehouse.
The city emphasized that 23 East would be a temporary spot, starting with the Mardi Gras season of 2021, for organizations to host their Mardi Gras balls for as few as three or as many as five years, while the Civic Center area is being rebuilt.
While all of that is supposedly contingent upon striking a deal in which the developer will build a new civic center, and the city is seeking input and is open to suggestions, Talbot’s statement to the media yesterday described the need for an interim site as “inevitable” and that 23 East was “the most viable space.”
2019 News Archive
Richard Valadie at the Mobile Museum of Art in 2014 with an installation his company made for "The Art and Design of Mardi Gras" exhibition
A Rex float from 2009
Aline's royal outfit on display at the museum
Float Builder Lands the King of Parades
February 6, 2019: The Royal Artists, Inc., a New Orleans float builder that has more than doubled its footprint in the Mobile area in the last few years, just landed the most prestigious account in New Orleans. Starting in 2020, The Royal Artists will be building the 29 floats for the Rex parade.
Rex, which actually goes by the name School of Design, announced yesterday that it was ending its 67-year relationship with the biggest float-building business in New Orleans, Kern Studios, Inc.
“The Rex Organization’s chapter in our company history will forever occupy true legacy space,” Barry Kern said in a news release put out by the School of Design. “We will always be grateful to those Rex leaders who years ago entrusted my father with the responsibility of creating for Rex one of Mardi Gras’s signature parades …”
The Royal Artists, founded in 1975, has been a presence in Mobile for 25 years now.
“This is huge, truly an honor and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Richard Valadie, president of The Royal Artists. “Our founder, (the late) Herb Jahncke, always had a vision and a dream of building the Rex parade, which his family had been involved in for many years. His Father was Rex 1966.”
The Royal Artists has been working in Mobile since taking on the floats of the Mystics of Time and the Conde Cavaliers, two of the area’s biggest parades.
In the last several years, the company has added the Order of Inca and Neptune’s Daughters in Mobile, as well as the Order of Mystic Magnolias in Fairhope to its client list. The Royal Artists also built the Order of Butterfly Maidens and Order of Isis emblem floats, debuting this season in Mobile, and the company creates most of the main props for the Pharaohs floats.
In New Orleans, the company builds floats for the Krewe D’Etat, Knights of Chaos, and Krewe of Proteus. The company’s work on Proteus – founded in 1882 – likely played a part in their getting the Rex parade.
The previous Captain of Rex said in a 2011 interview that "The artistry of Rex is reflected in Proteus at night.”
Valadie agreed that their hard work on Proteus had an effect: “The old-line krewes in New Orleans are very closely tied together. We were certainly endorsed by our clients. The same thing happened in Mobile. The recently acquired parades knew of our work by seeing it on the streets and verified our reliability by consulting with the parades that we have been working with for many years.”
The Proteus floats are smaller than those of some of the so-called superkrewes and built on 19th century wagons, as are the Rex floats. Working with the wagons “is a specialized field for sure,” Valadie said. “There are not many 100-plus-year-old wagons rolling around these days. We have been working with the same wheelwright as Rex for about 15 years, and the chassis and wheels are very similar.”
One thing that will not change in the Rex process is that vaunted Mardi Gras designer Henri Schindler will stay in the position of Art Director of the Rex parade, and he has already begun to work with The Royal Artists.
“He is a living legend,” Valadie said of Schindler. “It’s great to be able to work with him. We will carry on his legacy of reviving a deeply historical and traditional style as opposed to the ‘bigger is better’ mentality that can be so prevalent these days.”
In fact, Blaine Kern, founder of Kern Studios, once said in an interview about Jahncke and Royal Artists: “We complemented each other because you need the old, which he was presenting, and the brassy, which I was doing.”
After Royal Artists takes on Rex for 2020, the company will be responsible for 69 floats in Mobile and 91 floats in New Orleans. No other float builder – virtually no other business – straddles the two major Mardi Gras celebrations of Mobile and New Orleans the way The Royal Artists does.
Mobile County Finally Gets a Dog Parade
February 12, 2019: Baldwin County has two Mardi Gras parades for dogs – one of them is celebrating its 16th year. They’re held all over south Louisiana, and the Krewe of Barkus in New Orleans draws crowds so thick, the parade can barely move at times.
Mobile County, however, has never had a Mardi Gras dog parade … UNTIL NOW.
The Krewe of Mardi Paws parade and costume contest, sponsored by the Dauphin Island Chamber of Commerce, with proceeds to benefit the Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF), will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, February 16 – the week after the second Dauphin Island people parade.
“This was all put together kind of last-minute,” said Alison Rellinger of ARF, “but certainly, the hope is that we’ll be doing it every Mardi Gras.”
The theme is Fairy Tails, and there will be prizes for Most Creative, Best Group Theme, and Best Theme Representation.
Dogs and humans can be costumed to match the theme or simply in Mardi Gras regalia. Registration is limited to 100 dogs, and they might very well hit that number before parade day.
To register, go to: www.eventbrite.com/e/krewe-of-mardi-paws-tickets-55142647142.
Anyone who wants to try and register at the event can do so at the registration table, which will be near the Dauphin Island water tower at the intersection of Bienville and LeMoyne, at 9 a.m. Fees are $10 for one person and pet.
Any additional pets or people will be $5 each. Children ages 13 and under are free to walk in the parade, and all pets must be accompanied by an adult.
No bicycles will be allowed, but strollers or wagons are permitted. Decorate those, too!
Golf carts are allowed, but will be placed in groups at the front and end of the parade.
Participants will be allowed to throw beads, pet toys and pet treats, but no candy.
If you don’t want to be in the parade, come and watch – and bring your dog.
ARF will also be holding a pet adoption near the water tower from 10 a.m. until noon.
Music will be provided by Shirley Hardy, and there will be a hot dog stand, sponsored by the local PTO.
Here is an archive of the Mardi Gras News items that appeared on the Mobile Mask web site in 2019.
This is Clark, a 4-year-old American bulldog/boxer mix who's available for adoption at ARF
Aline Howard, First MAMGA Queen, Dies
January 31, 2019: The first Queen of what would become the Mobile Area Mardi Gras Association, Aline Jenkins Howard, died this morning at the age of 97, nearly 79 years to the day after she was crowned.
She was born Aline Necella Jenkins in the home of her father’s mother, Alice Jenkins, at the corner of Washington Avenue and Government Street, where, these days, the MAMGA Mammoth Parade passes by every Mardi Gras Day.
Aline’s father was Samuel Jenkins, an insurance man, and her mother, Lydia Carstarphen Jenkins, was a teacher. Aline was an only child.
When she was 19, she became a debutante of The Utopia Club. Her father was a member of that prestigious African-American social club. Then she was named the first Queen of the Mobile Colored Carnival Association, which changed its name to MAMGA in the 1970s.
“I was a foolish girl,” Aline said of her teenage self during a 2012 interview.
The king in 1940, the first King Elexis I, was Alexander Leo Herman, the 41-year-old president of the Unity Burial and Life Insurance Company and a member of The Utopia Club.
Aline was crowned in a ceremony that started at 9 p.m. February 5, 1940, at the community center, followed by a coronation dance. The second-ever CCA parade was held the next day at 3:30 p.m., and it included the 80-piece Tuskegee Institute band and the 56-piece band from Alabama State Teachers College.
Queen Aline and King Elexis I were not in the parade, Aline said in the 2012 interview. “We sat and watched from the Elks Club.”
Aline studied at Tuskegee, earned her undergraduate degree at Alabama State, and a master’s degree at Columbia University in New York City. She married Frank Howard, who was from Barbados, and started teaching in New York.
By 1948, she had returned to Mobile, where “she’s now a school marm,” The Mobile Review magazine wrote at that time.
Aline had a long and distinguished career as a teacher and administrator at Cottage Hill Elementary School, Council Elementary School, and Blount High School. She earned a doctorate in education from the University of South Alabama.
This year, the History Museum of Mobile opened an exhibition titled “MAMGA: Marching Through the Years,” a corollary exhibition to “Mardi Gras: Parading Through Time.”
The centerpiece of the MAMGA exhibition is Aline’s gown, train, and collar, along with Alex Herman’s costume and train.
When the exhibition was being put together, it was something of a surprise that Aline’s royal ensemble was in the museum’s permanent collection, according to Lani Kosick, who headed up the MAMGA exhibition.
Aline had apparently forgotten that she donated the whole thing to the museum, and those around her assumed it “had been long lost between storage facilities and hurricanes,” Kosick said. “We were nervous we had the wrong provenance information on the regalia in our care.”
But Aline was able to visit the museum in November, well before the exhibition opened January 17, to talk with museum personnel and see her royal garb for the first time in decades.
“Ms. Howard did, in fact, confirm that it was her regalia, remembering how cold it was in the sleeveless dress, and her mother designing the train,” Kosick said.
During that visit, when asked what she remembered about that Mardi Gras Day in 1940, Aline said, “the wind messed up my hair!” She also said that her coronation the night before was so crowded that her father had to carry her.
Aline recalled that “the banquet was beautiful with delicious food,” Kosick said. “I asked how involved her parents were with the whole process, and she remarked that since she was an only child, her parents attended her Junior and Senior proms, and her mother practically picked out her clothes until after she was married, so of course they were involved with her coronation. ‘Mommy took care of everything,’ she said.”
Kosick, probably the last person to interview Aline, said talking with her “was a treat. I was able to learn about her summers spent on her grandparent’s horse farm in Coy, Alabama, where she went to college, where she worked, and just about everything in between.”
For generations, Aline’s family worshiped at the historic Stone Street Baptist, where she was a member and a Sunday school teacher.
She was a member of the National Educational Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa, Psi Chapter.
She was also the founding member of the Royal Family Feast, bringing the monarchs and members of their courts of MAMGA together. The Feast recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Above: Aline at her coronation, 1940
Below: Aline and Elexis I, Alex Herman, likely at the coronation dance, 1940
Aline, far left, at the History Museum in November
Copyright 2020, Thrown Ventures LLC