As you may have already heard by now, former tech exec and serious dad of the year contender Jon Chambers built a replica of Harry Potter's Diagon Alley in the long driveway leading up to his house, which sits just across the street from Whittier Elementary. He estimates he's hosted 4,000 to 5,000 visitors since the alley opened last week, and about 2,700 people during Halloween weekend alone. He's received e-mails of support from all over the world, and said he heard rumors of someone flying out from Australia to see the whole thing, but Chambers said he never met him.
Chambers, who was in a ladder setting up a Nest Cam to monitor visitor activity when I stopped by this afternoon, said a bunch of kids visit everyday after the school bell rings. But on my visit I ran into two adult students studying industrial engineering at UW—Anushka Wadhawan, 22, and Kelly Hoang, 21—who were totally enchanted.
Both students had read the Harry Potter books growing up. "She read the books like five times," Hoang said, pointing at Wadhawan. "I watched all the movies and everything." When they heard about the alley on the news, they Googled the address and headed out. Hoang had recently returned from Harry Potter World at Universal Studios in Orlando, and she told me Chambers's re-creation was a smaller version of what they have down there in Florida, but said that the details were comparable. "And it's even more special because it's in a Seattle neighborhood," she said. She took a particular shine to the entryway. "It's like you're breaking through the bricks and entering a new world," she said.
In the books, Diagon Alley is a cobblestone alley lined with shops where everyone buys their magical items. You got your Ollivander Wand shop, your Quality Quidditch Supplies, and your independent bookstore, Flourish and Blotts. To get there you have to push through a brick wall in the courtyard behind The Leaky Cauldron, a popular wizard's pub.
Chambers says he plans to add on The Leaky Cauldron and Gringotts Wizarding Bank to his driveway Diagon soon. The former pub will serve as a one-story playhouse, and the latter bank will be a two-story playhouse. A Los Angeles-based pâpiér-mache sculptor recently got in touch with Chambers and offered to build a dragon for the roof of Gringotts. "Now I just gotta figure out how to ship a 10-foot dragon from LA," Chambers said.
After hosting a series of holiday events this year, Chambers plans to add working doors to the facades and dimension to the shops, and then ship the whole expanded installation up north to Camp Korey, a camp for kids living with life-altering medical conditions.
"We've been blessed financially," Chambers said. "I've always wanted to do social activism, and so this is what I'm doing."
So far he hasn't been sued by anybody, but mentions that J.K. Rowling liked a Tweet of the alley, so he should probably be good.
During my conversation with him, Chambers projected nothing but warmth, fellow-feeling and genuine excitement for his future plans with the driveway, which will involve Star Wars in a serious way that I'll say more about soon.