San Antonio’s Magic Man, Mr. Wooden Nickels

February 2, 2023

Louis “Berkie” Berkowitz was a San Antonio institution, an amateur magician eventually known as “Mr. Wooden Nickels.”  His story is a testament to the Hebrew Free Loan Association of San Antonio community building in the post-war era.  His “Elbee Company,” a novelty and magic shop, was established in 1948 with the help of an HFLA-SA loan.  He never was too busy to mentor and assist fellow magicians and was honored by professional magicians at their conventions in 1983, 1987, and 1996.  Nor was he ever too busy to entertain children in hospitals – he had a special kit just for the purpose.

In 1950, Berkie saw an ad in Billboard offering “100 wooden nickels for $1.50.”  He bought the business itself for $50, again with HFLA assistance. By the mid-1990s, the Elbee company was producing over a million custom wooden nickels each year.

Just before passing away in 1995, Berkie sold the Wooden Nickel business to his friend and colleague, Herb Hornung… who perpetuated Louis’ heritage, opening Wooden Nickel Historical Museum at 345 Austin Road, around the corner from the San Antonio Botanical Garden.  The crowning event was unveiling the world’s largest wooden nickel, weighing 2,500 pounds, measuring 13 feet in diameter, and nearly half a foot wide. The museum still stands, open by appointment only, and an exhibit honoring “Mr. Wooden Nickels,” Louis Berkowitz, is a permanent feature.

Join us in 2024 as HFLA-SA Celebrates 100 years of Changing Lives and Building Community.