In 1973, the first African-American female-owned disco in Los Angeles, Jewel’s Catch One, opened its doors, providing an inclusive, exuberant and one-of-a-kind environment for gays of color to party in. It was out of necessity, too, as West Hollywood nightlife was discriminatory against minorities and black clubs were mostly unaccepting of their LGBT brothers and sisters. With Catch One, owner Jewel Thais-Williams sought to offer a welcoming alternative, a place for expression and celebration that was a refuge from daily discrimination.
Times have changed, thankfully, for both the gay and African-American communities. But even so, Catch One had a magic and an authenticity that’s never been duplicated anywhere. Still, given the multitude of nightlife options for gays (and straights), the club has struggled to keep patrons in recent years.
Earlier this year, Williams announced that she’d be closing the Arlington Heights spot for good, and this weekend she did, but only after throwing a celebratory “Last Dance” with DJs who’ve spun there over the years, and a long line of regulars and random clubbers who hadn’t been there in a while wanting to pay respects. A live performance by Bonnie Pointer and a trailer screening of a soon-to-be-complete documentary about Williams and the club saw the crowd on their feet, dancing, clapping, singing and shouting accolades about the familial environment and how much it will be missed.
Jewel herself won't be missed too much. She’ll now be focusing full-time on the Village Health Foundation, the free clinic she founded next door, offering alternative health care treatments, educational programs, group activities, lectures, workshops and more for the community.
Saturday’s party also served as fundraiser to complete the documentary, which features footage of Williams’ early club days as well as some of the venue’s highlight events, including the party Madonna hosted for the release of Music back in 2000 and appearances by the likes of The Pointer Sisters and Sylvester over the years.
Williams' place in nightlife and civil rights history cannot be overstated. In addition to countless dance ragers, both gay and non (of the latter, the most notable was the long-running industrial favorite Das Bunker, which left the venue a couple of years ago), Catch One also held many HIV/AIDS community forums with elected leaders. “Mama Jewel,” as many called her, did more than give gay African-Americans a place to dance — she gave them opportunities and support to make their lives better.
Saturday you could feel the love and good vibes for what she created as Bobby Martin, DJ Key Key, DJ A-Ski and DJ Chris Johnson spun lively funk jams and party song mixes both in the downstairs bar room and upstairs amidst the flashing lights of the main disco, which retains one of the best dance-floor layouts in town as far as we’re concerned, not to mention a groovy "Disco" neon sign at the entrance. With viewing platforms, go-go boxes and a substantial stage and bar, its ambiance has a retro, almost New York feel about it that we love. We frequented Bunker there most over the years, and always dug the darkness and openness of the room, as well as the cavernous hangout areas and dance rooms on the lower level.
Outside parties and events promoters should take note: Catch One has not been sold yet, so it is currently available for private rentals and one-offs. Many local bands and promoters continue to book shows there, such as indie buzz band Phases (featuring Phantom Planet’s Alex Greenwald and The Like's Z Berg) last month. More are sure to follow until a new owner is found.
As Williams states in her farewell announcement on the club’s website (which you can read in full below), the club’s identity will no longer be tied to her or its past. Henceforth, she says, its moniker will simply be the Catch One Nightclub. No matter what it’s called, we think it will always be remembered as Jewel’s, a fitting name for the diamond in a rough neighborhood that shone so brightly, it made everything around it shine, too.
Here is Williams' full statement about her retirement, the club's closure and its legacy:
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Dear Family & Friends,
After 42 years of parties, I will end club nights with the “Last Dance” Event. The “Last Dance” was predicated upon the sale of the property, which was due to close at the same time. Unfortunately due to various, diverse and sundry reasons the property has not been sold and we’ve been waiting for the “last dance” for too long.
It is with heaviness of the heart that I must focus on my next mission and say good-bye to all that Jewel’s Catch One meant to me and others. I will not be far away! As of Saturday, July 18, 2015, I will officially be retiring from the night club business, so I can devote more of my time and energy to the Village Health Foundation Clinic (VHF) for years to come. There is so much work to do in our community in regards to health issues that I am compelled to do as much as possible to help. Just as the Catch opened at a time when it was most needed, such is also the case for VHF.
A documentary about the club has been in the mix for 5 years, and we would like to finish before the year is over. Raising finishing funds with proceeds from the ‘Last Dance” to complete this project is a paramount goal for us, because it represents our story. Who would have thought that so much progress would be made, from not being able to dance together to having the right to marry 42 years ago? I know I didn’t. Until the sale happens, we will operate as a venue to be rented by promoters for filming, fundraising and assorted events; and will be known as the Catch One Night Club – no longer Jewel’s Catch One.
To my friends, relatives, acquaintances and others, I am truly grateful and thankful for all of the blessings I have received as a result of my ownership of the Catch. I never expected that my entrepreneurial dreams would develop into friendships that are decades-long, memorable events, community impact and lives transformed that have resulted from Catch One. A multitude of words cannot express the depth of my feelings for all of you and therefore, I will choose just two – Thank You!
With Sincerest Gratitude and Love for All,