- Associated Press - Friday, December 10, 2010

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — If, like the popular holiday song says, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go,” then you must be going to the corner of Seward and Third Streets. Even Santa Claus stopped to peer inside on Gallery Walk on a Friday night to catch a glimpse of the newest creation by REACH facilities director Dan Elstad.

“When I was a kid I lived in Seattle and Fredrick & Nelson had a big holiday window each year,” Elstad said. “As a kid you never forget images like that, and now I am just a big kid when Christmas comes around.”

The Dec. 3 Gallery Walk was the unveiling for the seventh annual REACH window creation and by the next morning Elstad was back at work behind the glass.

“It is snot removal time,” Elstad said with a laugh. “The kids really like to peer inside. Smudge marks mean people are interested.”

It wasn’t just the little ones who had their faces pressed to the glass though, as the Christmas spirit was upon young and old alike. REACH executive director Richard Fagundes, who also grew up in Seattle, compares the scene to Macy’s and The Bon Marche.

“It takes a lot of time,” Elstad said. “I want to interest everyone and have something in there people will want to keep coming back to look at.”

The REACH building was formally Behrends’ Department Store and the windows featured mannequins with the newest fashions. Now REACH, which provides services to assist individuals and families experiencing developmental delays or disabilities, is Juneau’s fourth largest employer, with programs that incorporate Infant Learning, Intake Resource and Respite, Support Services, Supported Emplyment, Assisted Living and the Canvas.

Elstad begins planning in the summer and always tries to include a Juneau theme. He gets ideas and help from kids, neighbors and his daughters Kirsten, 19, and Annie, 22, and their boyfriends Josh and Jon.

Said Elstad, “The first year they weren’t into the Christmas spirit as much, but now they look forward to helping.”

Annie remembers staying super late on school night in years past to decorate, “And it is always something new each year and so fun to help pick it out.”

Kirsten said her favorite part is the finished product, “And now that my daughter is older she can enjoy it, too.”

They both said their father was still a kid at heart

This year’s creation is a Lego city and it is the first time Elstad has done three layers and levels of creation. Past productions have included tree houses, giraffes and roller coasters. Last year was a space theme. The final assembling this season began behind wrapping paper covering the window more than a week ago so revelers wouldn’t see the present to be unwrapped at Gallery Walk.

Looking closely at the scene inside reveals a Juneau waterfront cityscape of Legos. A rough estimate of more than 10,000 Lego pieces, costing more than $2,000, feature an elaborate city with miniature figurines included. Looking closely reveals diners, carolers, tree decorators, bicyclists, a construction yard, cars, trucks and a park. There is an Air Station Sitka coast guard helicopter and rescue vehicles.

Elstad drove around Juneau to take photos of various spots and turned them into 3D photos of Swampy Acres, Rainbow Foods, KTOO, the Silverbow Bakery, City Hall, the State Capitol, the Governor’s Mansion, the Baranof Hotel, the B.M. Behrends Building, El Sombrero Restaurant, the Wharf, Taku Fisheries and more.

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