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Jewel's Catch One helped generations of black gay people in LA

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Jewel Thais-Williams served as the Grand Marshall of the LA Pride in 2016
Dancing Pictures Productions
Jewel Thais-Williams served as the Grand Marshal of the LA Pride in 2016

"It gave me a stage to be of service to community that was rejected and neglected in so many ways," says founder Jewel Thais-Williams

A new documentary captures the history of one of L.A.'s most influential gay nightclubs: Jewel's Catch One.

The film, also titled "Jewel's Catch One," chronicles the rise of the club in the Arlington Heights neighborhood, which opened in 1973 during the middle of a recession.

"I decided it was time to try and start a recession-proof business," says founder Jewel Thais-Williams. "People, even in times of crisis, will respond to having fun, going to a party, going to a club."

Although the club closed in 2015, it provided a safe space for those who couldn't find it anywhere else in Los Angeles for 42 years.

Thais-Williams first eyed the building that would become Jewel's Catch One from her job at a grocery story across the street.

Back then, it was a neighborhood bar that didn't welcome black people.

Thais-Williams, who is black, was able to rent it out at night to create a space for herself and friends despite not having any restaurant experience.

It started off as a supper club with acts and shows. Soon, the daytime clientele drifted away and it became a gay club because she was a lesbian, herself.

"It's a tight community and an underground community," says Thais-Williams. "Whenever they found out someone was doing something – whether it was a party or dance or whatever – then most of the folks would flock to it."

Celebrities like Madonna and Thelma Houston also patronized the club, but Jewel's Catch One wasn't beloved by everyone.

"There was no red carpet laid out for us by the police, by our neighbors," says Thais-Williams. "We were not the most welcomed group coming into the neighborhood."

She recalls how when she refused to sell the space, it was set on fire and no investigation was ever done by the L.A. Fire Department.

But it was buoyed by its clientele who wanted to make it home for their own safety.

The favor was not left unpaid: at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, Thais-Williams turned the parking lot of the venue into a soup kitchen for affected people.

She also helped to raise money for black AIDS victims, who were often overlooked while white AIDS victims were getting more financial and medical assistance.

"It gave me a stage to be of service to community that was rejected and neglected in so many ways," she says.

Hear more of Take Two's interview with Jewel Thais-Williams and filmmaker C. Fitz by clicking the audio player above.

The documentary "Jewel's Catch One" is a part of Outfest in LA,  screening on Sunday July 17th. 

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