Dumbledore Santa at Diagon Alley in Seattle

You may have heard about Jonathan Chambers. He’s the dad who, at his daughters’ request, built a replica of Diagon Alley here in Seattle!

Not only do he and his family get to enjoy Diagon Alley, but it has also been, and continues to be, a great charity fundraiser. This weekend, there is going to be a special Potterverse Christmas event at Diagon Alley here in Seattle. Dumbledore Santa will be in attendance for photo ops from 1-6pm Saturday and Sunday, December 2nd and 3rd. The alley will be open to the public from 11am to 10pm both days and over 30 other wizards and witches will be on hand throughout the weekend (including myself as Sirius Black). And there will be snow (100% guaranteed)!

I got to interview Chambers about the inception of the Diagon Alley Project, its future, and what comes next!

GeekDad:
I know the Diagon Alley Project was originally your daughters’ idea as something to do for Halloween. Can you tell me how old your daughters are and how and when you first introduced them to the Potterverse?
Chambers:
Haley (11) and Avery (9). I don’t remember when they first watched the movies, I believe Haley was around six or seven the first time she saw the first movie, and it was just a couple years ago she started reading the books.
GeekDad:
How have your daughters helped with Diagon Alley?
Chambers:
They did the initial planning, by using sidewalk chalk to layout where they wanted the shops to go. After that they did some of their own planning on some of the details, like a potions station, selling Butter Beer, etc. During the construction, they helped, alongside their friends, by mostly painting and helping to haul wood to and fro.
GeekDad:
Do you and your daughters do a lot of crafting/making together?
Chambers:
We have always done projects together–drawing, making crafts, or helping in my shop to make them fun things (typically much smaller than this project).
GeekDad:
Your project has become a lot more than just something for your daughters. Can you tell me about the charitable work you’ve done so far and what you have planned?
Chambers:
In the middle of the construction phase we were trying to come up with a charity to put a bucket out for. It was October 18th that Matt Benke passed away, a former college friend of my wife at Madrona Venture Group. It was our girls that were most affected by this news, not understanding why there wasn’t a cure and why Matt’s children had to lose their dad like this. So they chose Pancreatic Cancer Research for the giving bucket. To-date we have collected nearly $8,000 in cash for the cause from visitors to the alley.

The two kids’ playhouse structures I am building now (Gringotts and The Leaky Cauldron) are going up for auction in April at the bi-annual Whittier Elementary PTA Auction. I raised $3,000 from a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for the construction cost, and Dunn lumber donated about $800 worth of lumber.

GeekDad:
I ended a very long IT career when I decided to follow my dream of being a prop and costume designer and maker. It was both terrifying and exhilarating. How has it been focusing your time and energy on the Diagon Alley Project and leaving your career behind?
Chambers:
I have done this twice before, taking a break from IT to do my own thing for a while. In 2006 I left Übermind for a couple years to buy and remodel a house with a friend.

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The other time was my transition from Übermind after the acquisition by Deloitte, where I took time off to spend time with my girls that summer, as well as build cabinets for a parsonage remodel at Ballard Church.

So the fear of not having a job really never crept into my mind, which was freeing and part of why I was able to focus so hard on the completion of this project in such a short time. This project, the alley, has been an amazing experience from many different perspectives. Working alongside friends and family was a lot of fun and showed how strong our local community really is. The speed at which it all came together was phenomenal, and I still can’t believe we pulled it off. The media response around the world has been an unexpected delight.

GeekDad:
You’ve said Diagon Alley is coming down after the New Year. Where is it going and are you planning on another build for 2018?
Chambers:
In January/February, I will start deconstructing the rest of the alley, which has plans to move up to Camp Korey. (Camp Korey is a Washington camp that empowers children and families living with serious medical conditions through year-round, life-changing experiences, always free of charge.) I am hoping to raise funds to expand the alley up at the camp so that campers can go inside some of the shops. This will be a big spring-time project that will take most of my time. So I am hoping to fend off recruiters so I can focus on it 🙂

For Halloween 2018, I want to do something Star Wars related. As usual, I am not committing myself to anything until the last minute, because I revel in the pressure of creating something amazing with very little time to do it!

For more details about the event head over to the Diagon Alley Project website.

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