A Charismatic Architect Comes to Laramie

When Gus Hollo (1905-1999) moved to Laramie in 1936, it was on the recommendation of his sister, Maureen Hollo Person, so she and her UW Engineering-professor spouse could have a home custom-designed by him.

 At 31, Charles Gustave Hollo was embarking on a new career that had almost been cut short.  In 1928 he was studying architecture at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, but when the world-wide Great Depression hit, his pharmacist father in Sheridan could no longer afford financial help.

 In Paris, Hollo had married the love of his life, Frances Heathcote, an English girl who was studying piano at the same Parisian school. When funds ran out, he brought her to home to Sheridan and secured a job as an apprentice engineer with the city. 

 That opportunity was a stroke of good fortune, because, since graduating from Sheridan High in 1923, he had attended four schools of higher learning without earning a degree from any.  Hollo attended the UW Engineering College (1925-1927) and was previously enrolled at both the South Dakota and Colorado schools of mines.  But he did manage to become a licensed engineer through his apprenticeship in Sheridan.

 One could speculate on why so many schools; one Laramie client who knew him said there was something of the “dashing, Douglas Fairbanks quality about him.” Likely his mustachioed good looks and drawing ability made him a popular fellow on campus. Several issues of a UW humor magazine he helped to found have cartoons that he drew. 

 When he came to Laramie, people were just starting to build again after the hiatus caused by the depression. There was no architect in Laramie, and the Rainbow Addition east of 15th Street had just opened up with housing lots. His main clients were UW professors who had steady jobs but not a lot of money.  With their academic tastes, it’s not surprising that most of Hollo’s designs are modest and “safe” classical Colonial- and Tudor-style homes although he did design at least one experimental home of concrete in collaboration with an executive of Monolith-Portland Midwest Co. in Laramie (now Mountain Cement Company) at 706 S. 14th St. Many of the houses from 15th and 18th  Streets between Garfield and Kearney Streets were designed by Hollo.  He even did the band shell in Washington Park.

 Hollo specialized in designing fireplaces.  Ronnie and William Solheim nixed the fireplace Hollo designed as too expensive. So Hollo paid for it himself, even adding an elaborate copper hood inside their new house at 1703 Kearney St.

Four Colonial-style houses on the north side of Park Avenue in the 1300 block are also known to be Hollo’s. No archive of his house plans is in the public domain, therefore it is impossible to know just how many Laramie houses he designed unless the owners (now, often third or fourth owners) happen to have his plans.

 Hollo won an award for the elementary school in Bosler which had some design innovations at the time. His largest residential commission was for Judge Parker’s house at the southwest corner of 18th and Rainbow Streets.  Going west on Rainbow Street from that house are several known to be Hollo designs.

 Conspicuous are four in a row of tan stucco on the south side of the 1600 block of Rainbow.  One was built for Hollo’s brother, Ben Hollo; one for a UW Agriculture professor and his piano-teacher wife; one for Clarence and Dorothy Dunder; and one for Hollo and his wife Frances.  The Dunder’s daughter, Clarine, recalls that Hollo presented her parents with a hand-made guest book when they moved into their house, where she still lives. 

 He closed his architectural practice in Laramie in 1950 and worked on planning and housing with the Bureau of Reclamation in Arizona and then with the Federal Housing Administration in Casper.  From 1954 to retirement in 1975 he was a civilian planner with the US Navy on the west coast.  He and Frances lived in Mountain View, California. 

 Hollo made a nostalgic trip back to Laramie in 1994 at age 89, with a neighbor he persuaded to drive.  The Laramie Plains Museum has a partial record of the Hollo-designed houses, based mostly on recollections of Michael Montfort, the driver. The LPM would be glad to hear about others designed by Hollo that should be added to the list.

 Frances died in 1997; Hollo died two years later.  There are probably few alive now who remember him, but he left his mark on Laramie.

By Judy Knight

Caption: Gus Hollo at age 22, from his 1927 passport. Courtesy of Michael Montfort