Jewel Thais-Williams’ Catch One disco nightclub has served as a safe space for black and queer communities in Los Angeles for 40 years.
Thais-Williams, a UCLA alumna, cultivated Catch One until 2015 after purchasing the dance bar in 1973. On Oct. 5, Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson named the intersection of Pico Boulevard and Norton Avenue to Jewel Thais-Williams Square, where the nightclub resides.
The designation featured a ceremony for the public and an official commemoration in her name. Thais-Williams is the first black lesbian and second black woman to receive this honor, according to a press release.
“Jewel Thais-Williams helped change the course of this country where it relates to breaking down racial, social and cultural barriers,” Wesson said in an email statement to the Daily Bruin. “(Thais-Williams’) Catch One was a place where all people could come, feel safe, be themselves and have a good time. If there is ever an individual deserving of a square in the City of Los Angeles, it’s (Thais-Williams).”
According to The Lavender Effect, a nonprofit that aims to advance the future of LGBTQ+ heritage and culture, Thais-Williams wanted to be self-employed while she was a history student at UCLA in the ’70s. She bought the Diana Club in Hollywood, promptly facing complaints from white customers and employees who refused to work for a black lesbian woman. Although women were not allowed to tend bar at the time, she kept the business and renamed it Ca
Thais-Williams built up a clientele over the years, catering to those who were unwelcome in other dance bars and nightclubs in the area. For nearly four decades, the nightclub predominantly attracted black and LGBTQ+ people, paving the way for other venues to do the same.
In addition to managing Catch One, Thais-Williams opened the Village Health Foundation, a nonprofit for educating the community on nutrition and healthy living. Both establishments also served as resources for black gay men during the ’80s AIDS crisis.
Thais-Williams also co-founded the Minority AIDS Project and the Imani Unidos Food Pantry while getting a master’s degree in oriental medicine from Samra University of Oriental Medicine.
Marcus Anthony Hunter, chair of the Department of African American Studies at UCLA, said Catch One’s impact on the black LGBTQ+ community is immeasurable.
“Black people are not a majority population in Los Angeles, but with Catch One, you could go to an evening location where you would be the majority,” said Hunter, who is also a UCLA sociology professor. “It creates a sense of home, a safe space in an otherwise unsafe city.”
For Hunter and other Angelenos, Thais-Williams is an activist and trailblazer whose legacy will live on. Toward the end of Thais-William’s ownership, the dance bar faced low-attendance problems and eventually became the last black-owned disco in Los Angeles.
“For a long time it went without competition,” Hunter said. “People didn’t really think it was financially rewarding to have a venue like that and nor did people care about black people having leisure, especially queer black people.”
Julian Angat, a second-year sociology student, said he values the intention behind Catch One and other safe spaces for queer people of color like himself. However, he said he feels that he has to seek them out himself.
“If an organization is being run by a queer person of color, I feel like I’m more compelled to occupy that space just to foster my community,” Angat said.
The Catch One establishment is under new management as of 2015. Nonetheless, the iconic nightclub has been immortalized in the documentary “Jewel’s Catch One”.