Tell us a bit about yourself (where you live, family, pets).
My name is Joel Pace. I live in Austin, Texas, with my wife (Amanda), my son (Grant), our two cats (Niles and Alfred), and our always[-]in[-]charge Corgi (Spencer). For my day job, I am an attorney practicing civil law in various areas. In my spare time, I’m a wizard!
What is your Hogwarts House?
I am a proud Ravenclaw!!!! Blue & Silver rules! We totally have the best color combination. Gryffindor is so blah…..Oh, and Spencer is a RavenPaw (or HuffleRuff).
You’ve created some incredible displays outside your house. When did your love for Harry Potter begin, and what inspired you to begin making these displays?
It started when my son started reading the [Harry Potter] books. That was back in, like, 2012 or so, when he was 8. That quickly turned into a Lego obsession for him, so we started building HP Lego sets. For Halloween 2016, my wife found some battery[-]powered candles that we hung with fishing wire on the front porch to make them “float.” We then added some other HP decoration to the front porch and it was a big hit with the neighbors. So we planned to do more in 2017. But my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in the [s]pring of 2017. She went through a bunch of surgeries that summer. As she was recovering in the late summer of 2017, she asked me if we could decorate again for Halloween. I hadn’t thought about Halloween at all with everything going on. But she said that it would distract her and make her happy, so I started doodling and building. I first built the flying Ford Anglia, which made her smile and laugh for the first time in a while. So I kept building. The more I built, the more Amanda smiled and laughed. So that was the genesis [of] the project. It has since taken on a life of its own. Now that Amanda has recovered, we use the display to raise money for charities here in Austin.
Your current display shows Hogwarts surrounded by lit-up Christmas trees. Can you tell us a bit more about it, the inspiration behind it, and the reaction you get from the public?
Our original display was a [sic] immersive walk-through Diagon Alley re[-]creation up our driveway. It has the Leaky Cauldron at the beginning where you would enter. You would go through the brick wall and then walk into Diagon Alley. We had friends who would dress up and main each store. We would pass out [b]utter[b]eer and [b]utter[b]eer ice cream. The people would snake up past Gringotts up to the front porch, which we turned into the Great Hall. In there, we had the Sorting Hat sort all the guests. I also had the Hogwarts Express, Knight Bus, and other fan favorites out there too. We would have thousands of people line up each night to go through. The wait would get up to 2-3 hours. But it was a ton of fun and [a] huge hit.
However, in 2020 the pandemic forced us to re-imagine the display to make it more pandemic-friendly. As we were thinking about it, I thought about the castle. I looked at the photos and watched the movies and thought, “I can build that.” So I started sketching and measuring my front yard to see what space I had. Then, I had to decide what parts to build. That first year, I decided to build the Great Hall, The Great Marble Staircase Tower, and the Astronomy Tower (my favorite). This year, I added another building that is loosely based on the Bell Tower.
So to answer your question – the current display is a re[-]creation of the more iconic buildings of the Hogwarts complex – the Great Hall, [m]arble [s]taircase [t]ower, Astronomy Tower, and the [sic] [b]ell [t]ower, with connecting substructures between each. Each building is on its own platform surrounded by rocky cliffs. We originally had a Halloween theme (naturally), but after Halloween, we transitioned to a Yule Ball theme for Christmas. We changed the water surrounding the complex to snow and installed about 30 Christmas trees around the buildings. Each tree has computer[-]controlled lights that are part of the synchronized music and light show we put on each night. All of the lights are blue and white to give that Yule Ball feel. We also have constructed a vignette of [the] Great Hall in front of our garage that we use to project an image of the Great Hall to make it look like your [sic] are looking into the Great Hall during the Yule Ball.
After your displays became a huge hit, you decided to turn them into charitable events, raising money for charities. Which charities is your display supporting, and why did you choose them?
Each of the charities we support [is one] that we have a working relationship with. The charities are:
1. Foster Angels of Central Texas (helps kids in the foster care system)
2. Variety, The Children’s Charity of Texas (helps kids with special needs; I’m a board member for Variety)
3. ZACH Theatre (we help fund scholarships for children to participate in the arts)
Each of these charities [is] local to our hometown (Austin) and focus [sic] on this area. Since we have a long working relationship with all three, we know that they use the money we donate to benefit the kids and do not waste it on overhead. We’ve worked with Foster Angels for years and love the work they do with foster children, especially those who age [out] of the system. Variety really supports not only the children with special needs but also their families. ZACH is our regional theatre [sic], and it is vital to our community that we support the arts. We love each of them and the work they do and it is our way of supporting them.
How long does it take you to make the displays?
That’s a big question. Each of the buildings takes about 2 months to design, build, install lighting, paint, and detail. There are no instructions for this. Rather, it[s]s just me staring at pictures and Lego models of Hogwarts. The painting alon[e] takes weeks. We have to hand stamp [sic] each brick on the outside of the buildings. Each brick. Once all the buildings are complete, the actual installation of the display takes about 2 weeks. Keep in mind that I mainly work on this on weekends because I do have a real job (darn it). The installation involves constructing the wood platforms that each building sits on, installing the foam cliffs, painting them, [and] then bringing the buildings back from storage, installing them on the platforms, securing them with bolts and cables, and then running all of the wiring. There is a lot of wiring and extension cords.
Halloween is actual[ly] a bit easier than Christmas. Halloween’s light show is limited to about 10 red, blue, and green computer[-]controlled floodlights. However, Christmas has 30 trees with about 50 separate strands of LED Christmas lights that must each be connected to computer controllers by its own separate extension cord. So many extension cords! I have to label each cord so I can connect to the correct controller for the light show to work properly. That take [sic] a long time. Also, there is the process of installing all of the trees themselves. That takes about 2 days.
When we do Diagon Alley, it is a much longer installation process due to the number of structures and how they interconnect. We have 8 stores, Gringotts [B]ank, the Leaky Cauldron, [a] [b]rick wall, [the] Hogwarts Express and Platform 9 ¾’s [sic], [the] Knight Bus, [the] [f]lying [c]ar, Aunt Marge (she’s funny), the Great Hall….and more. It’s a lot of work.
What displays have you done in the past, and which has been your favorite so far?
As I mentioned above, the display started out last [year as] a re[-]creation of Diagon Alley. That display was an immersive walk-through. We transitioned to the Hogwarts Castle for the pandemic, but have found we love the castle a lot so it will probably be a permanent addition to the display even if we go back to Diagon Alley at some point.
My favorite display is the Hogwarts Castle. It is just so stunning to look at when it[']s all up and lit up at night. As for my favorite pieces, those would be the Astronomy Tower and the Knight Bus. I must say I surprised myself on both of those. They turned out really well.
There are so many different components and details within your displays. Is there a specific element within them that has been your favorite to make? And what has been the most challenging one to make?
As for my favorite pieces, those would be the Astronomy Tower and the Knight Bus. I must say I surprised myself on both of those. They turned out really well.
The most challenging things to build are the Astronomy Tower and the Knight Bus. The Astronomy Tower has a lot of detail and difficult shapes at the top. It’s hard to make flat sheets of foam into those shapes! The Knight Bus is just so large and complex.
Is this something you can see yourself doing for years to come, and can you let us in on any ideas you have for future displays?
Oh, definitely. It’s become a family tradition. We’ll continue in some form or fashion for the foreseeable future. As for future displays, I plan to completely redo Diagon Alley. I’ve gotten so much better at building that I want to see what I can do if I completely reimagine my version of Diagon Alley. I’ve got plans to really push my dragon building, including finding a way to have my large dragon shoot/breathe actual fire!!!! We’ll see if I can pull that off. I also want to expand and improve on the Leaky Cauldron. We also plan on having a display that includes both the Diagon Alley display and the Hogwarts Castle display. That will be a sight to behold!
If people want to come and see your current display, how can they find you, and when will it be up until?
The display will be up and shows running until January 6th, 202. Shows start at 6[:00] p.m. and run until 8:30 [p.m.] (weekdays) or 9:30 [p.m.] (weekends).
We don’t give out our exact address for privacy['s] sake, but we’re easy to find. We are located in South Austin in the Circle C Ranch neighborhood. Our neighborhood is directly across the street from the Metropolitan Park. The cross streets are Slaughter Lane and Bungalow Lane.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I think the only thing I would add is that we would sincerely appreciate any support for our charities. Donations are not required to visit and enjoy the display, but they are really appreciated.
And finally, if you could sum up your experience of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the impact it’s had on your life in one sentence, what would it be?
It’s been magical.