This Halloween, a neighbourhood in south Austin, Texas, saw a sliver of the “Harry Potter” universe come to life.
With some help from friends and neighbours, Joel and Amanda Pace worked for months to transform their driveway and house into Diagon Alley, complete with shops like Ollivanders and Quality Quidditch Supplies.
Below, take a closer look at the Pace family’s magical project.
Joel started building displays back in June.
Joel told KXAN News that he would “sit down and doodle” sketches of shops from the “Harry Potter” books and movies. Then, he’d ask himself, “OK, how do I build this?”
An attorney at Levatino Pace PLLC, Joel also got help from his wife, Amanda, as well as neighbours, friends, and local theatre students who designed graphics.
This is the third year the Pace family have created “Harry Potter”-themed Halloween decorations.
But it’s the first time they went all out, Joel told INSIDER.
Joel, his wife Amanda, and their son Grant are longtime “Harry Potter” fans.
“A few years ago, my wife thought it would be fun to decorate our front patio with the floating candles [from Harry Potter], which was a big hit,” Joel said. “Our son, Grant, sort of grew up with the books.”
The following February, he and Amanda took Grant to Universal Theme Parks’ “Harry Potter” world, where they “had a blast.”
Joel first brought the “Harry Potter” universe to life after Amanda was diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2017.
“It was hard and we had to focus on [Amanda’s] treatment and numerous surgeries,” the lawyer said.
With Amanda in recovery as Halloween approached last year, Joel wanted to “raise her spirits” by decorating more elaborately.
“So, I decided to build the flying car,” he said. “We had so much fun with that that we expanded it to some other things – a few facades we placed on our bay window, a small Diagon Alley wall, spiders, and dementors.”
According to Joel, the display was a big hit with their neighbours and even made it onto the local news.
“The inspiration for the project was making my wife smile and taking her (and our) minds off of her cancer,” he said. “But it turned into more than that.”
He continued: “It turned into a celebration of hope, life, love, friends, and neighbours. So many people helped in big and small ways.”
This year, Joel and Amanda started thinking about Halloween decorations in May during a vacation in Mexico.
After his wife asked what they were doing for Halloween, Joel decided it “would be fun” to build the Hogwarts Express.
“There are no instructions on how to build the ‘Harry Potter’ train,” he said. “I broke out my iPad and a drawing app and literally drew a plan to build the train.”
The lawyer started constructing the train after the couple returned from vacation.
“It was a trial and error experience, but it turned out well,” he said. “My neighbours would drive by our house and see me in front with a mound of pink foam, building and cutting.”
When Joel finished his imitation Hogwarts Express, he decided it would be “silly” to only display the train.
“That’s when we decided to build Diagon Alley,” he said.
Joel and his team finished building displays the week before Halloween this year.
The lawyer told INSIDER that the Hogwarts Express was the hardest piece to create – but it’s also his favourite display.
All the shops and models are created mainly out of foam insulation panels.
“It took a while to learn how to bend the foam into shapes,” Joel said. “Amanda found a fabulous foam-cutting knife that heats up and cuts the foam.”
The displays are held together with Gorilla Construction Adhesive, drywall screws, and wood “where needed,” according to the lawyer.
For the most part, the displays are also hand-painted. “I learned the hard way that you can’t use spray paint with the foam as the chemicals in it will eat/melt the foam,” Joel said.
The Pace family’s Diagon Alley Halloween House also features several other iconic shops from the “Harry Potter” books.
Joel and his team built recreations of Ollivanders, Quality Quidditch Supplies, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, Flourish and Blotts, Gringotts Bank, and more.
Joel and Amanda had a preview party for neighbours, friends, and volunteers on October 27.
“We did this for everyone to enjoy,” Joel said. “Our neighbours have been so understanding and supportive through all of this.”
Their Diagon Alley Halloween House is still open for viewing.
According to a Facebook post, the Pace family is welcoming visitors to the driveway portion of their Halloween house from 6 to 8 p.m. (CDT) on Thursday and Friday.
The family will also be accepting donations for The KidsActing Foundation, an Austin-based nonprofit organisation that works with children and teens with Downs syndrome, as well as those with autism spectrum disorder. Joel serves on the organisation’s board.
“This experience has been incredible on several levels,” Joel told INSIDER.
“First, it has helped Amanda, Grant, and me heal and grow closer as a family,” he said. “It has taken our minds off the past year and a half [of] getting Amanda closer to fully recovering from her cancer.”
Joel said the family has also gained many new friends and become closer with their neighbours. “They supported us when Amanda was going through her surgeries and with this project,” he said. “They are the best.”
For Joel, the “project brought out the better side of people” at a time, he said, when “today’s news is dominated by political infighting and mass shootings.”
He continued: “It gave [people] joy and let people focus on something happy and positive. It brought a lot of people together. We love that. That is why we did this.”
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