In 1931, the founder of The Palos Verdes Assembly, Mr. Thomas Sheehy, the “Grand Old Man of Dance” and the president of Dance Masters of America, arrived in Hollywood from Chicago. Thomas Sheehy was well regarded in Chicago and New York as a dance teacher and the creator of several original dances. In late 1931, he joined the prominent Elise Ryan Dance Studio that catered to the stars and the Hollywood social set.
Twenty years later, in the fifties, Ballroom Dancing had grown in popularity. Southern California Dance Studios flourished with thousands of students. Our own instructor, the late Mrs. Wiseman, remembered meeting Thomas Sheehy at a Hollywood Dance Competition and invited him over to her sister’s dance studio in Long Beach. Who would have guessed that at that time one of the young dancers at the Call Dance Studio was our very own Bobby Burgess?
In February 1957, under the direction of Thomas Sheehy, the first known Palos Verdes Assembly Valentines Dance was held in the Lunada Bay cafetorium. A few months later in May, the Portuguese Bend Club hosted 200 teenagers from The Palos Verdes Assembly in Assembly’s “Grand Finale.”
After the 1959 death of Thomas Sheehy, his daughter Katherine Sheehy took over her father’s dance organizations. Kay and her “Patronesses” presided over the Pacific Palisades Cotillion and the Palos Verdes Assembly. In 1963, Kay gave up the Pacific Palisades Cotillion to concentrate her efforts in building up the Palos Verdes Assembly. In the 60's, the number of students interested in ballroom dancing had dwindled dramatically but Kay and her Patronesses persevered.
Through sheer dedication and hard-work, the group forged forward through the 70’s and 80’s to maintain the social decorum of ballroom dancing for young adults on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. A year-end formal ball was held at the Beverly Hilton. However, in 1989, Kay decided it was time to look for an even grander setting and chose The Millennium Biltmore Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, where we remain today.
In February 1990, the Palos Verdes Assembly was in jeopardy of collapsing because of the unexpected passing of Kay Sheehy. Three brave Patronesses agreed to chair The Palos Verdes Assembly and personally paid for the ownership rights. There were no records or guidelines, so the Patronesses had to start from scratch in creating this current non-profit organization.
The most pressing issue for the Patronesses at the time was to find a dance instructor. The criteria was; an expert dancing instructor, an expert in social decorum and manners, a role model for young people, and someone who would make a long-term commitment to the youth of our community. We began a national search and finally settled on the best applicant, who ironically was right in our own backyard. We entrusted our children to Mr. Bobby Burgess, one of Walt Disney’s original Mouseketeers, and star on “The Lawrence Welk Show.”
The Palos Verdes Assembly’s heritage is alive and going strong! From our roots with dance masters Thomas and Kay Sheehy to the pioneering group of Patronesses’ including Mitzi Cress, to our current day dance master Bobby Burgess, The Palos Verdes Assembly continues to serve the traditional needs of our community’s youth.