AUSTIN (KXAN) — A local family is once again transforming their south Austin house into the wizard shopping district Diagon Alley, and this year’s display promises to be bigger and better than last year.
Joel Pace has been busy for months building new additions to the Harry Potter-themed landscape. Visitors will see Eeylops Owl Emporium this year and an improved Hogwarts Castle display tacked onto the front of the couple’s house. Joel delegated the task of building the big Gringotts Wizarding Bank dome, complete with a dragon guard, to a volunteer who helped out last year.
The entrance to the display is improved this year, too. Instead of entering through an archway on the street, visitors will make their way through the Leaky Cauldron. Harry Potter fans will recognize the pub as the true entrance to Diagon Alley.
Lines wrapped around the block to get in last year, and people waited up to two hours in some cases to walk through the alley.
The Knight Bus
Many of the shops will be returning after a long year in storage, as will the Hogwarts Express. But the biggest single addition is the Knight Bus, the triple-decker wizard transportation service.
The idea for the bus came after Amanda’s breast cancer recurred in early 2019. “The beginning of this year was filled with surgeries,” Amanda Pace said.
When she was originally diagnosed in 2017, her husband started building the first, much smaller, version of Diagon Alley, “and it just sort of took off as something that distracted us from all of that and made us laugh,” Joel told KXAN in 2018. “And it made her happy, made me happy.”
Amanda is cancer-free once again, and the Knight Bus was her ask.
A windy day earlier this month almost took the bus out of commission. The Paces’ doorbell camera caught the moment a gust of wind knocked the structure over.
It ” scared the crap out of me,” Joel said, and the family had to start a GoFundMe page to raise the money necessary to repair and rebuild it. Community members donated nearly $1,500 — two and a half times what the Paces needed — to bring the Knight Bus back to life.
“It was a bit unfortunate,” Joel said, “but we recovered from it.”
A community project
The Paces are collecting donations this year for two organizations they’re involved with: the kidsActing Foundation and Foster Angels. Last year they raised more than $6,000, and they’re aiming for more this year.
“This whole project has turned into building community,” Amanda said.
It’s generating some serious fans, too. An entire family showed up last year in detailed costumes to walk through. They’ll be back this year, as will actors to create scenes.
The display has meant a lot to Kathryn Lee, too. She got a tattoo of the “bat-snitch” logo designed for the Pace family by local graphic designer Stephanie Johnson.
Lee told KXAN she’d been contemplating a Harry Potter tattoo for some time, but didn’t want to settle for something cliche and overdone. She booked the tattoo appointment within a week of the logo reveal.
Beyond the crossover between the Harry Potter world and Austin’s unofficial mascot, she said the design and family behind the display spoke to her.
“The story of Harry is all about facing down seemingly insurmountable challenges in spite of fear. Likewise, the Pace family were given a leviathan of a challenge and would’ve been totally justified had they decided to just wallow,” she told KXAN in an email.
“But like Harry, they chose light and they chose to share it with people through Diagon Alley – Austin. The bat-snitch is the best symbol and reminder to choose light like Harry and like Amanda and Joel.”
The Diagon Alley display opens to the public on Thursday, Oct. 31, from 5-10 p.m. It will open the following two nights, Nov. 1-2, from 5-9 p.m.