Harry Potter Comes to Rancho Del Diablo

In the Eichler tracts in Concord, Halloween makes itself felt, as in this home in Rancho de los Santos, and at a home party in Rancho del Diablo. Photo by Dave Weinstein

Moving to a new house in a new neighborhood can always be a bit unnerving. Does the house need a lot of work? In the case of Michael and Mendi Dunning the answer was yes.

And what are the neighbors like?

The Dunnings didn’t quite know.

But as a couple they are unafraid. So even as they tackled some of the work their Eichler home needed in the tight-knit Concord neighborhood of Rancho Del Diablo – Devil’s Ranch, named for the nearby, looming Mount Diablo – they reached out to their new neighbors by inviting them to a Halloween open house.

“We bought our lovely Eichler home in 2012, though not so lovely at first,” Mendi recalls. “We've done extensive renovations on her.”

“We've had Halloween parties for years,” Mendi says. “It's my favorite holiday!” And the Dunnings do it up right. But would their neighbors share the scary spirit?

“The first year we moved to Rancho Del Diablo, we were unsure how our neighbors would react,” she says, “so we just had an open house for Halloween.

Last year's Halloween party at the Dunning home took off on the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. Party photos courtesy of Mendi Dunning

“We were thrilled with the response! It was the first time meeting many of our new neighbors, and they welcomed us and my Halloween obsession! I think the biggest crowd was around 25, but people come and go. They might have a drink, or food, then go out trick-or-treating with the kids and return later.”

Renee Underwood, who moved to Rancho Del Diablo with her husband Karl in 2009, says the annual Halloween party at the Dunnings’ house has become one of the highlight events of the year.

“Our neighbors  Michael and Mendi Dunning do an amazing display and host a neighborhood party with a theme every year,” Renee says. “Mendi is an artist so her displays are always top notch!”

Mendi says she is developing a website about her art. On an Etsy posting she says, “I am a lover of design, art, and color! Your home, no matter how small, should be an oasis, a comforting womb surrounding you in beauty and inspiring views. I create works to bring a unique vibe to your walls with a mid-century modern flare.”

About her art, she says, "I'm a digital artist, working on my Ipad Pro. My work is modern and mid century inspired. Occasionally I'll pick up my acrylics or watercolors, but I love the freedom digital art gives me."

Rancho Del Diablo is one of three Eichler neighborhoods in the Contra Costa city of Concord. The others are Parkside and, the inverse to Diablo, Rancho de los Santos. Rancho Del Diablo, built in 1964, has about 69 homes.

Michael and Mendi Dunning at the party.

Halloween is not the only annual holiday that brings folks together in this land of the devil. The neighborhood also celeberates with a July 4 parade.

Interestingly, the city of Concord, long known as a working class sort of place, is working to upgrade its image and attract more hip people and more businesses to town by, in part, playing up its Eichler neighborhoods.

“Eichler home communities” are listed on the city’s website as one of Concord’s amenities, under the heading 'Vibe.'

Over the years the Dunnings have had several different themes for their Halloween party.

"Two years ago we had a fabulous Tiki theme,” Mendi says. “We've had a 'mad scientist' theme, a 1950's Sci-Fi theme.”

Neighbors Kevin, Jeri, and Carter get into the spirit of Halloween.

“We decorate inside and out. For our Sci-Fi theme, we made planets out of beach balls and hung them in the carport. Several kids asked if we were running a haunted house. They wanted to come in and see more.”

“Our home is perfect for parties with its open floor plan, and I love greeting people at our Dutch front door.”

“Our theme this year is Harry Potter,” Mendi says. “I'm making a cabinet of curiosities, Dementors, Mandrakes, and many other fun props. It's going to be interesting to see if I can make our mid-century modern house look like it would fit in the world of Harry Potter!”

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