Walk inside Den No. 4 at Kern Studios in Algiers, and the first thing that stands out is the luster of the giant characters atop the Krewe of Zulu’s floats.
From the “Province Prince” to “Mr. Big Stuff,” there’s a nice coat of shiny new paint on all the beloved outsize figures.
But as Zulu officials pointed out, it’s what’s underneath that really counts — and who owns it.
The officials announced Thursday that the social aid and pleasure club will roll on Mardi Gras with all-new floats, and half of them — the character floats — are now fully owned by the organization.
The purchase of the rest will be completed next year, officials said at a news conference in the den of the krewe, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary.
“For many years, the Zulu organization was interested in having a parade that would fit its image and likeness,” President Naaman Stewart said. “We believe that the entire city and the entire community, as far as Mardi Gras is concerned, is going to be very excited once these floats roll down the street.”
That’s music to the ears of members like Bruce Thomas, who’s belonged to Zulu for more than two decades and, for the past three years, has served as parade chairman.
For years, Thomas and his predecessor, Jimmy Felder, cringed when they heard complaints about their parade stalling along the route — sometimes delaying the Rex parade behind it.
That was due, in part, to using rented floats, including some that had been through as many as six parades in two weeks by the time they arrived at the Zulu den on Monday.
Too often, when Zulu rolled on Fat Tuesday, members had to knock on wood — literally.
“These (new) floats are constructed with steel frames, not wooden frames,” Thomas said.
Plus, he said, they use “run-flat” tires that are far less prone to breaking down than air- or foam-filled tires.
“They’ll last forever,” boasted Thomas, who doesn’t want to let his members, or the community, down. “I like the organization part (of the parade). I pride myself in making things happen the right way.”
With nearly 1,500 riders, there’s not a lot of room for error, he said, but now, “We can load up our floats much earlier.”
On a more cosmetic level, floats will come prewired, so DJs won’t have to bring their own equipment and the music won’t stop pumping from the speakers.
The floats’ purchase was almost a decade in the making and was the result of Zulu’s four-decade-old relationship with Liberty Bank.
“This is a customer that has been very loyal to us over the years,” said John Ancar Jr., Liberty Bank’s senior vice president for commercial lending, noting the partnership is about as old the bank itself. “It’s always been a two-way street.”
Kenneth Johnson, vice president of commercial lending, said purchase of the floats could be one in a series of moves to bolster the organization, with the potential for Zulu to own its own float den or maybe even start its own museum.
But more than anything, Thursday signaled an organization filled with the pride of possession.
“You own it now,” said Clarence Becknell, Zulu’s spokesman and historian. “You’re looking at an organization that, 100 years ago, came from nothing. It’s like real estate. It shows progress.”
It’s been a fun week for Zulu. Several members traveled to Washington, D.C., to celebrate New Orleans attorney James Williams’ being named the first Zulu member to be crowned king of the Washington Mardi Gras by the Mystic Krewe of Louisianians.