Peter Gano: A Pasadenan on Catalina

This is the third in a six-part series on “five Pasadenans who had a lasting effect on Catalina Island,” as documented by the late PMH researcher Sidney K. Gally in 1992. 

Peter Gano was a pioneer of Altadena. He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on December 11, 1839 to William and Nancy Gano. He was their tenth child. William and Nancy would go on to have a total of fourteen children. Gano was educated in the public schools of Cincinnati and trained as a machinist in a locomotive factory. He later studied civil engineering and was involved in railroad, bridge, and sewer construction in Cincinnati and St. Paul.

Gano first visited Pasadena when Stanley Jewett, a friend and colleague, moved there with his family in 1878. Gano visited the Jewetts and, in 1880, purchased roughly 200 acres of land between what is now Altadena Drive and Loma Alta Drive. He bought the land from the San Gabriel Orange Grove Association at five dollars per acre.

He turned a portion of the land into an orchard and vineyard and built a small house on another portion. Both Gano and Jewett profited handsomely off this land, which later became the nucleus of Altadena.

Gano later put his skill as a civil engineer to good use. He implemented water supply lines to his property, and he was a founding director of the Las Flores Water Company in 1885. It was during his time in Pasadena that Gano met Jimmy Elms, a resident who had settled in the foothills above his property in 1883. The two remained lifelong friends and together made multiple trips to Catalina. Jimmy Elms later recalled the “two-day trip by horse and buggy to Wilmington,” where they would “camp overnight by the artesian well,” and when “breezes were good, we could sail over to the island in four hours. How I loved it.”

Peter Gano beside his trusted steed, Mercury. The stallion had once been part of a circus, but retired due to failing eyesight. Courtesy of Catalina Island Museum.
Peter Gano beside his trusted steed, Mercury. The stallion had once been part of a circus, but retired due to failing eyesight. Courtesy of Catalina Island Museum.

Jimmy Elms later opened a fish and bait business in Avalon that he operated for four years. Gano joined his friend on the island and disposed of his Altadena property. He spent more time at Avalon, helping to pipe water to the Bannings’ Hotel Metropole in town. Gano bought land overlooking Avalon Harbor in 1888. This is where he would design and build his new home. Gano ferried supplies over to Catalina on his boat, and used his horse Mercury—a former circus horse who retired due to failing eyesight—to hoist construction materials up the property’s cliff. He dubbed his new house “Look Out Cottage” in reference to its wide view of the harbor. The home was built in the Queen Anne style. The three-story house bears steep gables on the roof and a colorful cupola, which offers a view of Catalina’s mountains and the coast. As a tribute to his co-builder Mercury, Gano included a weathervane in the shape of a horse at the very top of the cupola.

Look Out Cottage stands out in this panoramic photograph of Avalon thanks to its iconic cupola. West Coast Art Co., Copyright Claimant. Avalon Bay, Santa Catalina Island. Avalon California United States, ca. 1914. Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2007660604/.

A rumor spread on the island that Gano built the house for an ex-fiancee who had rejected him. As the story goes, Gano’s former lover disliked the house he built—and the relationship steadily declined afterward. Forced to choose between his lover or the house, Gano chose the house. He avoided romance and proceeded to post signs deterring women from visiting his property. While Gano never married, this rumor has never been verified. His life as a bachelor was solitary. The mother of Sidney K. Gally remembered seeing Gano driving around Avalon in his horse and buggy. She recalled Gano looking like a lonely old man.

Holly Hill House, 2010. Courtesy of Justin Ennis (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Holly_Hill_House.jpg)
Holly Hill House, 2010. Courtesy of Justin Ennis (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Holly_Hill_House.jpg)

Peter Gano died in Pasadena on March 7, 1925 at the age of eighty-five. A funeral service was conducted by the Reverend Walter Buckner. Gano’s body was cremated at the Pasadena Crematorium. Today, Gano’s magnificent house is owned by the Kreis Family. They frequently open the house to visitors and host tours conducted by the Catalina Island Museum.

Gano moved back to Pasadena for good in 1921. He sold Look Out Cottage to the Giddings family, who renamed it Holly Hill House after the abundance of holly plants growing nearby. The original name “Look Out Cot” can still be seen above the entrance, spelled out with pebbles attached to the facade. In his last years, Gano lived in Pasadena and was cared for by his old friend Jimmy Elms, who lived nearby. In his last year of life, Gano cancelled his subscription to the Pasadena Star News after the newspaper wrote favorably about Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Gano considered Lee a traitor to the United States.

 

- Grant Holt

Read Five Pasadenans and Santa Catalina Island and Hancock Banning: A Pasadenan on Catalina. Check back each Monday for subsequent posts in this series.