The Pico Boulevard nightclub that has been known as Union for more than two years will be returning to its original name, Catch One, in a few short months. In homage to the legendary locale’s rich history and its pioneering former owner, Jewel Thais-Williams, current proprietor Mitch Edelson tells L.A. Weekly exclusively about the rebranding and name reinstatement coming in October.
Edelson says he's been thinking about the change for quite some time. “I took the temperature with a lot of people about it to see how they felt, including Jewel,” Edelson says. “She was 100 percent supportive and I wouldn't do it without her permission.
“People are really starting to understand, especially after the acclaimed documentary about the club, that the Catch One was on the same level as all the legendary clubs in American history; you know, Studio 54, the Limelight, the Stone Wall, the Black Cat,” he continues. “It doesn't make sense not to do this.”
Edelson is referring to the doc called Jewel's Catch One, currently running on Netflix, which explores the history of the Arlington Heights venue as a meeting place for queer people of color back when there weren't many — or any — such places available. The film also celebrates its iconic owner, who closed the club in 2015 to focus on her work with the Village Health Foundation, a clinic she founded next door to the club that offers alternative health care treatments and educational programs. In recognition of this history, Edelson says he wants to make the club a “living museum” so that “you can party but also learn about the history of Catch One.”
“We've teamed up with ONE Archives based out of USC, which is the largest LGBTQ archive in the country,” Edelson says. “We'll have old pictures and information about what happened here.”
Union was already pretty diverse and inclusive, hosting everything from punk shows to wild dance clubs like A Club Called Rhonda, and with the name change, Edelson will continue to make this a priority. “We'll always be very queer-friendly and very accepting of everybody,” he says. “It's going to be a melting pot, with a lot of queer and trans artists and performances. We want everyone to be themselves — we'll continue to welcome everybody.”
To this end, Edelson tells L.A. Weekly he has some LGBTQ partnerships he'll be announcing in October, when the old moniker returns. This will include removal of all current branding and signage (Union retained much of the space's original signs and neon after the remodel). Edelson says Union (which he named after clubs owned by his father, Steve Edelson, in Chicago and L.A.) had a good run, and the decision to change names is not based on business. “It's just the right thing to do,” he says.
L.A. Weekly conducted an interview with Thais-Williams about the inspiring documentary and her impact on nightlife in Los Angeles just before getting the tip about the name change. We also reached out for her reaction to the news afterward. Portions of these interviews are shared below.
L.A WEEKLY: How do you feel about the Catch One name getting reinstated?
JEWEL THAIS-WILLIAMS: [It's] an additional recognition of the importance of the club as a social-political representation of what we all were doing to survive. When I purchased it, it was called the Diana. There was a ballroom upstairs that served Howard Hughes and played big bands like Nat “King” Cole. I wasn’t planning to change the name but after I bought it, I went away out of town and my sister added the name Jewel to it.
Tell us about the impetus for the name Catch One that you talked about in the documentary.
The name came from a term used back in the day. It was a term used for going out to pick up a guy. In the beginning it was mostly gay guys who were coming to the club, and that’s how it got its name. And that’s how we advertised it — as a place where you could “get a date for the night … or more than one.” (Laughs) And that's what I put on my business card: “Catch One.” And then in smaller letters in parentheses, I put: “(or more than one).”
Do you feel this gesture will restore the club's legacy?
Of course, I'm delighted. I was happy when they kept the sign out as well as at the entrance at the corner of Pico and Norton. There is one that says “Jewel’s Room” that’s still there, too. It’s an honor, for sure. And I appreciate it. I think it helps [others] appreciate the importance of the club.
Why did you open the club and what kind of discrimination did you face doing so?
My sister and I owned a dress shop near Baldwin Hills. But there was a recession, and when there's a recession, women stop buying things and doing special things for themselves; they stop pampering themselves and wear the same clothes they had from last year rather than get the new fall fashions or whatever. So this was happening, and I thought, “I need something that's recession-proof.” I was discussing this with my youngest brother, who had two liquor stores, and he suggested a liquor store. I said, “No, that's too impersonal. I can’t do that.”
But it's true. Alcohol’s recession-proof. So then I thought, a club. There weren’t any around for gays and lesbians. When I was starting out, I worked at a Safeway [now Jon’s], and that’s where I met my first long-term [female] partner. There was this corner bar across the street. Sometimes customers would come into the store, complaining about black people coming into the bar. I had the fleeting thought, “One day I’ll own that place and make it a place for everybody.” And I did.
I started watching the business opportunities in the classifieds section in the L.A. Times. Every day I would get it and go through it, and if there was a club or something that was coming in, and I would go and check it out. And so one day, I saw a listing for the bar that was across the street from where I used to work. Needless to say, I couldn’t sleep that night. I came in the next day, and the lady who owned it had inherited it from her husband, who had passed away. She told me she’d sell it to me for $18,000. So I got the funds together, legally, with a loan, too, and it was mine in 30 days.
When did you start to see that you were part of a movement? What do you think it was that made the club become this kind of creative center and safe space?
I think for people in the community, it came out of a need at that period to have a place that, especially people of color could come and have at least a similar experience that was available to white folk. And then it became a place for the gay and lesbian community, too.
Did it open up the door for discrimination or hardship for you?
It was determined by the LAPD and others that it was a gay establishment. Yeah, we were a target.
Were gay clubs illegal in Los Angeles at that time?
It wasn't legal. There was a dance ordinance that didn’t allow same-sex dancing in nightclubs.
Were you ever shut down?
There was only one time that it was closed, and it was when an outside promoter was there when I was out of town and I just had the downstairs open. The cops came in and shut it down, but then when I confronted them, they said they had no record of having coming in.
How did you get involved with the documentary?
I had been given an award at the annual Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center gala and C. Fitz [the filmmaker] came there to do some intro snippets for the awards. Once she was interviewing me, she said, “I’m doing this two-minute intro on you but you need a documentary. Somebody needs to tell the story of the Catch One, and I would like to do that.” The rest, they say, is history,
What does the future hold for you, Jewel?
What I'm doing now is the Village. I work here three days a week, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, to do acupuncture and herbs. I want to do more workshops like I used to. The bottom line for me, just like at the Catch, is always about community.