ARLINGTON HEIGHTS — The intersection of Pico Boulevard and Norton Avenue was dedicated Oct. 5 as Jewel Thais-Williams Square, honoring the LGBTQ and human rights activist.
The intersection is in front of the Catch One disco, which Thais-Williams opened in 1973 and owned until 2015. It is the nation’s oldest black-owned disco, according to Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson, who authored the motion designating the intersection in Thais-Williams’ honor.
“Everybody deserves to be able to enjoy a night out where they can feel safe and welcomed, but before Jewel Thais-Williams, that was not the reality for Los Angeles’ black LGBTQ+ community,” Wesson said. “With Jewel’s Catch One, she built a home for young, black queer people who were often isolated and shut out at their own homes, and in doing so, changed the lives of so many. Jewel is more than deserving to be the first black lesbian woman with a dedicated square in the city of Los Angeles for this and so many other reasons.”
Under Thais-Williams’ ownership, Catch One featured performances by such prominent entertainers as Sammy Davis Jr., Madonna, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Chaka Khan, Sylvester, Weather Girls, Luther Vandross, Donna Summer, Whoopi Goldberg and Rick James, Wesson said.
Catch One was a community center for Los Angeles’ black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning community. It grew to become known as the “unofficial Studio 54 of the West Coast” and Thais-Williams became a national role model for fighting discrimination and serving the less fortunate, Wesson said.
Thais-Williams also co-founded the Minority AIDS Project, which aims to help blacks and Hispanics affected by the disease. She served as a board member of AIDS Project Los Angeles, which provides HIV/AIDS care and prevention programs and seeks to improve HIV-related public policy, and with her wife Rue, co-founded Rue’s House, described as the first housing facility for women with AIDS. It later became a sober-living facility.
In 2001, Thais-Williams founded the Village Health Foundation to provide preventive health care and education to the black community for AIDS, diabetes, hypertension, high blood pressure and other high-incidence diseases among blacks in an effort to reduce the risk of disease and offer tools for learning to live with an illness.
Thais-Williams graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in history. 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.
While she was still the owner of the nightclub, Thais-Williams went back to school and got her master’s of science degree in Oriental medicine from Samra University in 1998.