Islander honored for his part in Mardi Gras revival
V.J. Tramonte has been part of Galveston’s revived Mardi Gras from the start.
Now, after 36 years of helping plan the party, Tramonte, the owner of Joe Tramonte Realty, will have one in his honor.
Tramonte this year was named the recipient of the George P. Mitchell Mardi Gras Award. For the past 10 years, the award has been given to people “vital to Mardi Gras’ rebirth and preservation.”
It’s a description that certainly fits Tramonte.
He was one of the first people to volunteer to help organize the Grand Night Parade in 1985, when George P. Mitchell, the famous island-born businessman revived Mardi Gras in Galveston to help celebrate the reopening of The Tremont House.
The planners at the time didn’t know what to expect from the early days of the Mardi Gras revival. Mardi Gras has been celebrated on Galveston Island since 1867, but large, public Mardi Gras events mostly ended in Galveston during World War II.
Mitchell’s proposal was to bring that kind of celebration back, and thanks to the work of people like Tramonte, it was successful.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” Tramonte said. “The first year, the restaurants ran out of food. They had over 50,000 people. There were traffic jams all over, we were so thrilled about it.”
Tramonte was a founding member of the Knights of Momus Mardi Gras Krewe. He served as its president from 1992 to 1993 and its king in 2006. The Momus parade is usually one of the most popular events during Mardi Gras, as lit-up floats travel from the seawall down 25th Street and into the city’s downtown.
Putting together the original Knights of Momus was a group effort, Tramonte said.
“We literally sat in the lobby of The Tremont Hotel back in the mid ‘80s and everyone brought their address book and said let’s invite this person and that person,” he said.
The strategy worked, and Mardi Gras and the Knights of Momus have grown beyond all expectations. The Knights now have more than 650 members, and the annual two-weekend event attracts tens of thousands of people to the island.
Not all Mardi Gras are alike, of course. One of the most memorable Mardi Gras festivals for Tramonte came in 1987, when temperatures plummeted on the island and were near freezing for the Momus Grand Night Parade.
The marching bands from the University of Texas and Texas A&M University marched in the parade, but only one of them was able to leave the island when a rare sleet storm struck the island soon after the parade ended.
“The Texas band was able to get off the island and cross the causeway, but the A&M band went and ate and couldn’t get across,” he said.
Mardi Gras organizers had to find a place to put the band members up for a day or two before conditions improved, he said.
His other fond memories included being crowned the King of Momus in 2006, and riding elephants and camels through city streets during parades through the years.
His love of Mardi Gras even helps with his real estate business, he said. Some of the easiest houses to sell on the island these days are the ones that line the Mardi Gras parade routes, he said.
Tramonte was born on the island and has lived in Galveston all his life. In 1971, he graduated from O’Connell High School, where he once was named king of the high school’s Treasure Ball. The Treasure Ball is a Mardi Gras tradition at the school that actually precedes the downtown parades and other parties. The event raises money for the private, Catholic high school.
In many ways, Tramonte hasn’t stopped being a leader since those high school days.
Aside from his participation in Mardi Gras and the Knights of Momus, Tramonte has served as the president of the Rotary Club of Galveston, the chairman of the Galveston Zoning Board of Adjustment, the past chairman of the city planning commission and the past chairman of the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce and is on the board of the Galveston Economic Development Partnership.
“I’ve always wanted to give back to the community and I enjoy it,” Tramonte said.
Tramonte will be honored with the George P. Mitchell Mardi Gras Award during a ceremony in front of The Tremont House, 2300 Ship Mechanic Row, at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 14. The Knights of Momus Grand Night Parade is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 22.