8 Cultural Gems on the North Side

Courtesy photos

“Outside the Loop” is used as a pejorative by Downtown-centric cool kids, but oases of culture can be found in the sprawling suburbs of the North Side.

One-stop Culture Shop
Barshop Jewish Community Center of San Antonio
12500 NW Military, (210) 302-6820, jccsanantonio.org
Vexler Theater box office, (210) 302-6835
Holocaust Museum, (210) 302-6807, hmmsa.org

The Barshop Jewish Community Center of San Antonio, home to the Vexler Theater, is celebrating its 15th year at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Campus at N.W. Military Highway and Wurzbach Parkway. Besides the gym, pool and athletic activities, the JCC presents a wide array of cultural offerings, including author readings, classical concerts, stand-up comics, exhibits, plays, musicals, lectures, films and family programs.

The Vex, far from vexing, is one of the most reliable producers of quality live theater in the city using local directors, actors and musicians (their recent production of Little Shop of Horrors is pictured above). Currently, When You Comin’ Back Red Ryder? runs through March 2, while the romantic musical The Fantasticks is set for May 8-June 8. The JCC screened the 13th annual Jewish Film Festival recently at the Santikos Embassy 14, and has begun to branch out by sponsoring films throughout the year at various venues around the city.

Comics such as Mike Burton, Shawn Pelofsky and Cory Kahaney have performed for the JCC at the Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club in Park North Plaza. As part of the Author Series, Dan Zevin, who says he’s the “least hip citizen of Brooklyn,” will read from Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad on March 4 in the JCC’s Holzman Auditorium, which hosts a variety of events including concerts ranging from award-winning pianists to the San Antonio Symphony.

Many events are free and all are open to the public. The JCC doesn’t discriminate; anyone can join.

Founded in 2000, the Holocaust Memorial Museum is located on the upper level of the Weinberg Jewish Campus at the same address. With photographs, films, mementos and maps exploring 12 years of Nazi rule across Europe, the museum includes a section on the American reaction to the Holocaust and a small exhibit about Holocaust survivors who settled in San Antonio. Admission is free.

After sampling Jewish culture, you can take a walk on the kosher side across the street at the H-E-B Alon Market.

The Real North Star
Gallery Nord
2009 NW Military, (210) 348-0088, gallerynord.com

Castle Hills’ Gallery Nord is easily the city’s biggest and best-designed contemporary art gallery. It shows local and Texas artists along with presenting classical music concerts, such as the SOLI Chamber Ensemble, and other events. San Antonio modernist architect Allison B. Peery designed the distinctive building with a wing-like roofline and abstract stained glass designs at the entrance. Inside are three large, sleek galleries with polished wood floors, white walls and ample natural light.

Sparkle and Fade
Phil Hardberger Park
8400 NW Military; 13203 Blanco,

The North Side is woefully underserved by public art, but sculptor Anne Wallace helps residents see the light with Golden Age, her miniature carousel-like installations of glittering gold medallions mounted on side-roll irrigator wheels at Phil Hardberger Park, which has raised the bar significantly for city parks. The San Antonio artist says the custom reflective hardware is designed to create a flickering effect, alluding to wildfire. As the park’s restored grassland matures, shimmering gold flecks of light will appear to hover just above the prairie.

High-brow Low-cost
Regal Huebner Oaks Stadium 14
11075 I-10 W, (210) 558-0427

Regal Fiesta 16
12631 Vance Jackson, (210) 641-6909

Movie theaters abound in and around the North Side, but here’s a shout out to clean, comfortable, well-managed Regal Theaters. Regal Huebner Oaks Stadium 14 & RPX (Regal Premium Experience) is a good place to see live broadcasts of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, London’s Royal Ballet and other live Fathom Events. The RPX theater offers the big-screen spectacle once provided by the downtown movie palaces. The nearby Regal Fiesta 16 has been converted into a dollar, um, buck-and-a-half house. Comfy rocking chairs add to the best cinematic bargain in town.

Child’s Play
Texas Transportation Museum
11731 Wetmore, (210) 490-3554, txtransportationmuseum.org

For kids, and anyone who likes trains, the all-volunteer Texas Transportation Museum is celebrating its 50th anniversary, highlighting the state’s transportation history with a working passenger train you can ride, several model train layouts, horse carriages, fire trucks, tractors and automobiles. With special Christmas, Halloween and Military Week exhibits, it’s a great, and often-overlooked, way to spend holiday breaks and weekends.

Picking and Grinning

If you prefer to see the North Side in your rearview mirror, scoot up I-35 to the Gruene Historic District. Sure, the country kitsch is over the top, but Gruene Hall, one of the best little dancehalls in Texas, is still booking greats, near-greats and rising stars. If you can find a show to enjoy during the third weekend of the month, you can hit the town early for its Market Days arts and crafts fair.

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