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Austin family transforms home into Harry Potter's Diagon Alley

AUSTIN (KXAN) -- A family in south Austin has been working on a Harry Potter-themed Halloween display since June, transforming their driveway and home into the wizard shopping district known as Diagon Alley.

Joel and Amanda Pace put together a smaller-scale version of the display last year, and ramped it up for this Halloween with the help of friends and neighbors.

"It kind of spun out of control, frankly," Joel Pace said. "And I, you know, got too far into it, and once I got too far into it, I had no choice but to finish it."

Working through weeks of rain, Pace molded thick foam board into storefronts that now line the driveway leading up to his garage. A model of Gringotts, the wizard bank, stands closest to the house, guarded by a dragon that puffs smoke.

The display features several shops familiar to Harry Potter fans, including Quality Quidditch Supplies, Flourish and Blotts and Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. The family has been documenting the progress on a Facebook page.

Pace, an attorney, doesn't have a background in construction. "For most of these things," he said, "that's what I did was I'd sit down and doodle, 'OK, how do I build this?'"

He's had a considerable amount of help this year, from neighbors and friends, and from theater students in Austin who helped design graphics. Some of the teenagers will be at the house on Halloween dressed as witches and wizards and milling around the shopping district.

The idea, which started last year, was an outlet for the Paces. 

"[Amanda] had gone through breast cancer," Joel Pace said, "and she was recovering and it just sort of took off as something that distracted us from all of that and made us laugh. And it made her happy, made me happy."

In front of the house on the street, Pace built a scale model of the Hogwarts Express, the train that takes students to wizard school, outfitted with a fog machine. The decals there and on storefronts are the work of Dana Chang. 

"I reached out to Joel and Amanda, got their phone number from a neighbor and said, 'Hey, can I help?'" Chang said.

Her job, like Pace's, is a technical one. Working on the display has been a positive creative outlet for her.

"As Amanda had a rough year last year," she said, "I had a rough year this year. So doing this work just kind of makes your soul feel better."

The display, on Hopeland Drive in the Circle C Ranch neighborhood, will be open on Halloween and probably for at least a couple days after. It doesn't cost anything to walk through, though the Paces hope to bring in donations for student theater programs.

The family will serve Butterbeer ice cream made by Amy's Ice Creams and have other wizard-themed items like copies of the magical daily paper the Daily Prophet.

Neighbors are also getting in on the fun. Several built other aspects of the Potter world, including Hagrid's hut. Visitors can walk around the neighborhood and see those additional elements.

As for next year, Pace said if he can find a place to store all of the buildings until then, he'll probably reconstruct it. If not, he'll have to plan a new feat of imagination.


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