Jon Chambers wasn’t content with making just one holiday a magical experience in Seattle. A month after Halloween, when thousands of people visited his Ballard neighborhood home to check out the Diagon Alley in his driveway, the construction wizardry is continuing and more Harry Potter fans are lining up.
This weekend, Chambers and his family and the small army of volunteers who have built the fantasy street of shops from the popular book and film series, will hold a big holiday event to show off additions that have been made over the past few weeks — and raise more money for charity.
Among the highlights: Two new buildings have been added, including The Leaky Cauldron pub at the front of the driveway and a two-story Gringotts Bank at the back, and a Dumbledore Santa (with 30 years of acting experience) will greet visitors on Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m. On top of that:
- Nearly 30 characters will show up throughout the weekend to entertain visitors.
- 180 gallons of fake snow and holiday decorations will create a festive winter scene in the Alley.
- The Chambers girls, Haley and Avery, will be selling Harry Potter-themed cookies, peppermint hot cocoa and Butter Beer from the newly completed Cauldron.
Frank Carillo, an amateur artist with experience making large piñatas, made the 1,400-mile drive from his home in Pomona, Calif., to Seattle on Thursday and Friday to deliver extra-special cargo for the project.
After learning of the Alley through a Twitter posting in October, Carillo reached out to Chambers and the two creators forged a connection. He ended up making two large, lifelike dragons and one was installed on the dome atop Gringotts Saturday morning.
Carillo is a father of three and a manager at Walgreens. He makes the dragons in his spare time. The one mounted on Gringotts is his biggest yet, with a 20-foot wingspan.
“I sent him a picture of this guy and said, ‘I think you need this,” Carillo said of his first dragon-related message to Chambers.
And now, standing in Seattle, 19 hours from home, anticipating the reaction from Alley visitors, he added, “I want to see their jaws drop.”
Chambers, who left his tech job as design director at OpenCar and set out to build something massive for his girls for Halloween, has been a focus of intense attention not only in his quiet neighborhood, but across Seattle and around the world. The Alley story has been picked up by outlets ranging from Time Magazine, the Today Show and Teen Vogue to the BBC, CNN and MTV.
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling even deemed it worthy of approval by dropping a “like” on a GeekWire tweet about it all.
On Saturday in the rain, he worked to spread fake snow on the Christmas trees and around the base of the buildings in the Alley.
“I had no idea it would get this big. No clue,” Chambers said. “We are all blown away by the response from everyone.”
Chambers estimates that as many as 10,000 people have set foot in his driveway across from Whittier Elementary School since the Alley opened. In that time, $8,400 has been raised for PurpleStride, a Pancreatic Cancer Research charitable initiative launched in memory of Matt Bencke, the Seattle tech-community fixture who died on Oct. 18.
Another deposit to that fund — in the name of The Wizards of Diagon Alley — will be made following this weekend’s events, which drew more long lines, just like Halloween night when Potter fans and others streamed through for hours.
Chambers posted on Facebook Sunday and said another $7,800 was raised to bring the total to more than $15,000 for Pancreatic Cancer Research.
Furthermore, in the spirit of giving, both the two-story Gringotts and The Leaky Cauldron will be repurposed as children’s playhouses and sold off at the Whittier Elementary PTA auction in April. Chambers is donating the rest of the Alley to Camp Korey, in Mt. Vernon, Wash.
Chambers said he has been constantly motivated to improve upon what he and his helpers built. He said the “reaction and delight” that Diagon Alley has generated in so many people has kept him going.
Jon’s wife, Jennifer Chambers, said she was still amazed by the people who make the effort to stop by. She said a couple from Texas flew into Seattle and their first stop from the airport was Diagon Alley. On Friday, a young boy who was between treatments for leukemia at Children’s Hospital in Seattle came by to see the project.
But the long days, the coordination around manpower and materials, and the physical labor have left Chambers really tired and really sore. He hardly sleeps he’s so sore from working, Jennifer said.
“After this weekend I am done for a while, taking a break,” Chambers told GeekWire. “I don’t think I will miss it because after a push like this I always need to be a recluse for a bit and have time to think about the details of the next big thing.”
For the latest updates, check out the Diagon Alley project’s dedicated website — which Chambers also found time to build.