Greek immigrant had sanctuary for monkeys, birds

Panos Giannakaras, also known as Pete Olson, was the founder and owner of the Olympic Game Farm. He was born Aug. 8, 1883, in Pyrgos, Greece, and came to Grand Junction in 1905 to work on the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad.

By 1912 he had left the railroad, anglicized his name and become the owner-operator of the Peter Oleson restaurant at 301 Main St.

By 1916, Pete had moved his restaurant to 226 Pitkin Ave. and had changed his last name to Olson, the name he retained the rest of his life. He began collecting cages and filling them with monkeys, parrots and other birds. Soon he had outgrown the Pitkin location, and in 1928 he had moved his restaurant and his exotic pets to 258 Colorado Ave., where Superior Alarm is now.

By 1932 he had closed the Colorado Avenue restaurant and had purchased the southeast corner site in the rural area known as First Fruitridge. It was in a primarily farming area a mile north of the city limits, where apples and cherries were grown and some dairy farming was done,

He had animals all around, and it’s likely the most popular ones were the parrots that mimicked the neighboring mothers calling for their children. Pat Gormley, who grew up across First Street from the game farm, remembers when he would be out playing as a youngster.

His mother would step outside and call “Pat come home,” and a parrot at the farm would repeat “Pat come home.”

Gormley also told me about a large, somewhat cranky, male monkey named Sally. One time Sally escaped from his cage and ended up atop the Gormley garage. Pat said that Pete came to get Sally off the garage, all the time swearing in Greek. Eventually, he managed to get Sally down.

Pete built a home for his bride-to-be from Greece. When she reached Ellis Island she became ill and died, never making it to her new home.

Jim Baughman, another close friend and neighbor of Pete, remembers that the house was set back from the corner of the lot. On the corner, Pete had erected a larger building where he sold birds, such as Christmas geese, to the public. An entry gate was flanked by two white eagles, the trademark of the Eagle Oil Corp.

In the early 1960s, Pete invited Jim into the upstairs kitchen. Jim said that it was like walking back in time to a newly furnished home of the 1930s. The kitchen had a white coal range, wooden table and chairs. He could see into the living room, which was decorated with a large overstuffed sofa and chair and a carpet with a large floral print. All were new and had never been used.

Jim said that his grandfather, Irvin Baughman, and Pete were good friends. After Jim’s grandfather died, Pete, who grew beautiful peonies, would walk from First Street and Patterson Road to the Orchard Mesa Municipal Cemetery to place flowers on his grave on Memorial Day. Pete never learned to drive a car.

Pete never lived in the upper portion of the house, only in the basement. And in the basement was where Jim Baughman found him several days after he had fallen, suffering a broken arm and shoulder.

Baughman, who was 16 years old at the time, said that after discovering Pete, he jumped on his bike and raced up the hill to Dr. Archie Gould’s home.  It was a Saturday, and the doctor was home. Jim said that the doctor grabbed his black medical bag and raced back down the hill to Pete’s house.

However, too many days had passed, and Pete died Oct. 2, 1967, at St. Mary’s Hospital.


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