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Jonathan Chambers hoped that one day he would take a break from working at a busy tech startup and spend more quality time with his two daughters, Haley, 11, and Avery, 8. The Seattle dad planned to build the playhouse his daughters always wanted ... and, boy, did he deliver!
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Prompted by his youngest daughter's request for a real-life Diagon Alley (the magical shopping street from the “Harry Potter” series), Chambers decided it was time to leave his job and indulge in this project for his family and community.
“It was the perfect storm of timing,” the 46-year-old told TODAY Home. “I wanted to pursue this rather than contribute to someone else’s bottom line.”
Chambers started by sketching out plans for the famous shops from the wizarding world. He designed storefronts for Ollivander’s Wand Shop, Quality Quidditch Supplies and Flourish and Blotts Bookshop on one side of his driveway.
On the other side, he replicated the Magical Menagerie, Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions and Eeylops Owl Emporium.
As an experienced woodworker, he invested $3,000 of his own money to get the project going and used a 3-D printer to create detailed finishes, including lanterns, Quaffle balls and an impressive Golden Snitch.
Chambers then posted messages on social media seeking help from friends and neighbors to build some of the more labor-intensive parts. He was pleasantly surprised when more than 30 people showed up, half of them children.
“They brought lumber, scrap wood, exterior paint; it was a community effort,” Chambers said, mentioning that it added up to about $2,000 in supplies. “The kids were beaming with pride that they had a hand in this thing.”
The result was a masterpiece — built in just 17 days! — and the dad of two said he's been humbled by the positive feedback.
"The No. 1 comment I’ve gotten from visitors is, 'Thank you for doing this for the community,'" he said. "I’ve realized this is something I want to continue doing, I want to make a difference … and it’s been amazing, bringing people together to work on this.
"The biggest reaction has actually been from millennials who grew up with 'Harry Potter' — they're giddy, they're over the moon with the details," he said.
When Chambers and his team finished the display in time for Halloween, nearly 3,000 trick-or-treaters descended on his whimsical driveway. They used the huge turnout as an opportunity to raise money for a cause that's close to their hearts, pancreatic cancer research. A close family friend, Matt Bencke, recently died from the disease and Chambers eldest daughter, Haley, has been fundraising since. The project helped them put $4,000 toward that goal.
And Chambers is far from finished with Diagon Alley. He’s building two more stand-alone stores: Gringotts Wizarding Bank and the Leaky Cauldron Pub. The additions will be added in December and the entire display will be open to the public through Christmas.
In the new year, he hopes to add actual playhouses to the existing facades and donate the completed installation to Camp Korey, an organization that offers the camp experience to children with serious medical conditions and special needs.
“My brother has special needs and to me, this would be perfect fit,” he said.
What’s next for this superdad? “I want to build a life-size Millennium Falcon,” Chambers said. Judging by his dedication and his tenacious team, we have no doubt that he'll pull it off!