Jewel's Catch One

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Jewel's Catch One was a dance bar owned by Jewel Thais Williams, located on West Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles. Open for forty years,[1] It was the longest running black gay dance bar in Los Angeles. It is now called UNION and is owned by Mitch Edelson.

History[edit]

When it opened in 1973, the club was one of the first black discos in the United States, and was for a long time the major black gay bar in Los Angeles.[2] The original owner of the club was Jewel Thais-Williams. She graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in History and during her college years she wanted to be self-employed. Her first business was a boutique, but it went out of business so she bought a bar. She opened the club after she experienced discrimination in different clubs around West Hollywood because she was black and female. Women at the time were not allowed to tend bar, but Jewel saved enough money and bought the bar despite the limitations.[3] When the club opened it became a hub for a diverse population of performers including Sylvester, Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, Janet Jackson, Donna Summer, Whoopi Goldberg, Rick James and Madonna.[4]

Unfortunately, as the years went by the attendance of the bar went down. Jewel was about to shut the club down, but it was bought by Mitch Edelson (who also owns Los Globos) in November, 2015.[5] After that, it became known as the last Black owned disco and was renamed The Union. It's still the site of a large LGBTQ crowd.

The club was featured as an organization in an exhibit in the City Hall in Los Angeles called "Defiant Spaces".[6]

A documentary about the nightclub, Jewel's Catch One, premiered during Outfest on July 10, 2016, at Hollywood’s Harmony Gold. It explores the club’s historical importance and Thais-Williams’ influence in the local community and abroad.[7] Jewel's Catch One, was one of the clubs mentioned in the anthology Our Happy Hours: LGBT Voices From the Gay Bars.[8]

Jewel Thais-Williams[edit]

Originally from Arkansas, Thais-Williams' father, in search of employment and educational opportunities, moved their household to Gary, Indiana, where Thais-Williams was subsequently born. She was the fifth born of eight children. During World War II, several of her uncles and cousins were drafted into the navy and stationed in San Diego. These relatives sent back word of San Diego's excellent weather. Her family, wanting to leave the harsh weather of Gary, decided to relocate to San Diego. They lived with relatives for a short time before moving their large family into a one bedroom residence.[1]

Shortly after high school, Thais-Williams moved to Los Angeles. Despite having several intimate (though not explicitly sexual) encounters with other women, she did not realize that she was a lesbian until her mid twenties. Her first date with a female was with a woman she worked with at a Safeway supermarket.[1]

Having grown up black and in poverty, Thais-Williams felt that she would not be able to acquire personal wealth without starting her own business. She purchased what was then the Diana Club with a down payment of $1,000, and an agreement to pay an additional $18,000 within two months. With the help of her brother-in-law, a banker, she secured an advance for the remaining $17,000. Soon after acquiring the club, white customers stopped patronizing the establishment, and employees quit, not wanting to work for a black woman. Despite these initial challenges she was able to succeed. A man named "Tex", whom Thais-Williams described affectionately as an old "redneck" from Texas,[1] mentored her and helped her though the initial phases of setting up her business. Her bartender asked for his job back, and Thais-Williams obliged. Some of the white customers also returned and developed a strong relationship with her. Her club attracted mainly African American clientele, which were underserved by the night club industry at the time.[4][1] The blue colar white clientelle would visit the club by day, and the blacks would be her primary customers at night.[9]

While she was still owner of the nightclub, Jewel went back to school and got her Master of Science degree in Oriental Medicine from Samra University in 1998. Due to the high rate of preventable diseases such as diabetes and obesity in minority populations, Jewel decided to open a non-profit called the Village Health Population. It was created with the purpose of educating lower-income communities on nutrition and living a more healthy lifestyle.[3]

Her active work in the community was documented in an academic journal in 2011 in the series called Thinking Gender Papers. The journal discussed Jewel's use of the club's building as a source to give health advice and run her non-profit. Also, it served as a space for political organizations to have their community meetings.[10]

To honor her contributions to the LGBT community, Thais-Williams was appointed the Grand Marshall of the 2016 Los Angeles Pride Festival.[11]

Notable Performers[edit]

References[edit]

Coordinates: 34°02′52″N 118°19′27″W / 34.047816°N 118.324105°W / 34.047816; -118.324105