The brick building along Lankershim Boulevard is easy to miss amid the strip malls, auto parts shops and liquor stores that line the street.
But for nearly 40 years, dancers from around the world have flocked to the North Hollywood rehearsal space that “Singin’ in the Rain” actress Debbie Reynolds created in 1979 to give her friends a place to practice and perfect their art.
And when the new owner of the building posted a notice of demolition early last week, many in the dance community stopped what they were doing to try to save what they regard as their second home.
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The lease for the company that now uses the building, Debbie Reynolds Legacy Studios, expires Nov. 5, according to CEO Teresa Espinosa. Demolition could soon follow.
The owner of the building, at 6514 Lankershim Blvd., did not immediately respond to emails sent to him Monday.
The unassuming building, which many said resembles an abandoned warehouse, is worth saving, because of the decades of pop culture and entertainment history within its walls and floors, Espinosa said.
Debbie Reynolds autographed a mural inside a break room. Teresa Espinosa is the CEO of the Debbie Reyonlds Legacy Studios that opened nearly 40 years ago in North Hollywood seen here on October 8, 2018. (Photo by John McCoy, Contributing Photographer)
“There are studios that are way more hip than us,” she said, but this one occupies a special place in the Los Angeles dance community.
“If you want to be a professional dancer you pretty much go to North Hollywood to dance,” Espinosa said. “North Hollywood is where the commercial dance world is. And Debbie Reynolds was the first of that.”
A Change.org petitionwas started a week ago, and has since garnered more than 12,000 signatures. And more than 50 people went to a Los Angeles City Council meeting last Friday on short notice, to “plead our case,” Espinosa said.
The new owner, investor Alan Kleinman, bought the building from the Reynolds’ estate after the actress died in 2016, only a day after her daughter, actress and author Carrie Fisher, died.
Carrie Fisher, left, with mother Debbie Reynolds in the documentary “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds” on HBO. Photo credit: Fisher Family Archives/courtesy of HBO
To continue operating the classes and rehearsal space, which was named Debbie Reynolds Dance Studios, Espinosa and two other dancers from the Los Angeles area set up a new company. They got licensing permission from Reynolds’ son Todd Fisher to call the company the Debbie Reynolds Legacy Studios.
Espinosa says the dance community came together to raise money to improve the building. They doubled their studio space to 10, added artwork and put in a lounge area.
She said they had tried to bring in investors to try to also buy the building, but many told them they were more interested in building apartments in that location.
Todd Fisher, Reynolds’ son, told ABC7 news, that the estate sold the building because tax laws at the time made it so that they needed to pay “$2 million cash just to keep the place.”
“And ironically, a year later, the tax laws changed, and we could have kept it,” he said.
Espinosa said she understands that the owner has the right to do what he feels is best with his investment, but it will be difficult to preserve the dance studio’s history without the physical space being intact.
“We’re basically tearing down … our dance history by tearing down the building,” she said.
Espinosa said entertainers like Lucille Ball, Shirley Maclaine and the Temptations practiced and took classes in the building. Patrick Swayze’s mother taught ballet there. And most famously, Michael Jackson rehearsed his dance moves for “Thriller,” “Beat It” and “Black or White” in the studios.
More recently, the pre-rehearsals for Ariana Grande’s “God is a woman” performance at the Video Music Awards took place in that building.
But for many of the dancers and instructors, the primary appeal of the Debbie Reynolds studios is its relaxed and welcoming atmosphere — a rarity in a highly competitive industry. The affordability of the classes and studio rentals also does not hurt.
“When you talk about Los Angeles, you talk about it being fake, about it being pretentious,” Espinosa said. “Ladder climbers. All the negative aspects people talk about when they talk about L.A.”
“When you go to Debbie Reynolds, all of that leaves,” she said.
Lindsay Ducos, a professional dancer who tours with singer Chris Brown has been coming to the studio for that past 15 years, echoed that sentiment.
“It’s a lot less intimidating than the other studios,” she said. “I feel a sense of home here.”
She added that moving the studio space would leave hanging a community of dancers, who specifically moved into the surrounding neighborhood to attend classes there.
Ducos also said it would be a shame to demolish a good, working dance space.
“It already has great flooring, which, most people don’t think about that, but that costs a lot of money to have good floors that don’t hurt the bodies of dancers,” she said. “It has great mirrors. It has sound systems that actually work.”
Dance instructor Jon Paul, who was scheduled to teach a jazz funk class Monday evening, said he came to Los Angeles specifically to go to the Debbie Reynolds studio.
He was inspired by the studios’ dancers and choreographers through watching YouTube videos of them while he was attending college in Iowa.
Now he works alongside some of those dancers, including Anthony Thomas, the choreographer for Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation music video.
“This one is special,” he said, of the studios. “It’s the last heritage site that we have. There aren’t many places around that has what Debbie’s has
Students take a dance class on Oct. 8, 2018, at Debbie Reyonlds Dance Studios in North Hollywood. (Photo by John McCoy/Special to the Los Angeles Daily News)
By ELIZABETH CHOU |email@example.com | Daily News
PUBLISHED: October 9, 2018 at 9:44 am | UPDATED:October 10, 2018 at 9:47 am
SPECIAL CREDIT: LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS