In 1979, Debbie Reynolds called her personal assistant, Margie Duncan, and asked if she knew the big, brick building on Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood — the one that was a post office and then a furniture store. When her assistant replied yes, Reynolds buzzed back, “I own it now.”
Later that year, Reynolds opened the Debbie Reynolds Professional Rehearsal Studios, later called the Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio.
Dec. 28 will mark one year since Debbie Reynolds passed away, one day after the death of her daughter, Carrie Fisher. But thanks to a group of three Los Angeles dancers, her influence will live on in the North Hollywood building. Only now it’s known as the Debbie Reynolds Legacy Studios.
“We want to continue her legacy, vision and purpose of being humble but being great,” Teresa Espinosa, one of the new owners of the studio, told Travel + Leisure. “She was this iconic, giving person who really cared and all that energy is in these walls.”
When the studio reopened under new ownership on Nov. 6, it was in need of a 21st-century facelift. The new owners — Teresa Espinosa and Marie and Austin Wright — are working to update Reynolds’ studio for the present day. Starting next year, the studio will broadcast classes around the world, meaning anybody will be able to take a Debbie Reynolds class from their living room.
“We want to expand Debbie Reynolds’ legacy to reach the whole world,” Marie Wright told Travel + Leisure. “Debbie wanted this to be a place where everyone felt respected and safe. It didn’t matter whether you were a beginner or advanced. You shouldn’t feel judged no matter your skills.”
People of all skill sets have passed through the 19,000-square-foot building. Stars from Lucille Ball to Patrick Swayze to Madonna have taken classes there, making it a veritable Hollywood institution. The Temptations practiced their signature dance moves there. Michael Jackson and choreographer Kenny Ortega rehearsed their “Thriller” video in one of the rooms.
And within the studio, there’s a hidden mecca the owners refer to as “Debbie’s Closet.” The 1,000-square-foot space is a vault of Hollywood memorabilia, including Marilyn Monroe’s necklace from “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (makeup still on it), Carrie Fisher’s wedding dress, Bill Robinson’s Bojangles hat, and some of Reynolds’ dresses from her roles in “Singin’ in the Rain” and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”
When going through the closet, the new owners even found never-before-seen candids of Carrie Fisher on the “Star Wars” set. “They were sitting in plain sight and nobody knew,” Espinosa said. “We felt like our job is to preserve that history and bring it into 2018.”
In order to honor the history hidden within its walls, the studio will introduce a mini-museum in its lobby area. Throughout the year, showcases will rotate out memorabilia from Reynolds' closet. Visitors will be able to see some of her clothing on display and just a small selection of the many plaques and trophies she won throughout her career.
“People can come and see the costumes and then come back two months later and it will all be different,” Wright said.
The lobby will also feature a “wall of fame” featuring the names of all those who donated to the studio’s GoFundMe campaign. Funding from the campaign will go towards renovating and maintaining the studio, including Wi-Fi, new floors, and even brand-new studio spaces.
The campaign will remain open through mid-January.