Grandma Prisbrey's Bottle Village
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Grandma Prisbrey's Bottle Village
Grandma Prisbrey's Bottle Village, September 2008
|Location||4595 Cochran St
Simi Valley, California
|Architect||Tressa "Grandma" Prisbrey|
|NRHP Reference #||96001076|
|Added to NRHP||October 25, 1996|
This assemblage is one of California's Twentieth Century Folk Art Environments. In 1956, Tressa Prisbrey, then 60 years old, started building a "village" of shrines, walkways, sculptures, and buildings from recycled items and discards from the local landfill. She worked for 25 years creating one structure after another to house her collections. Bottle Village is California Historical Landmark number 939. It is also a Ventura County Cultural Landmark, and has historic designation from the City of Simi Valley. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.
It was officially closed in 1984 and severely damaged during the 1994 Northridge earthquake. In 1979 Bottle Village was named a Ventura County Cultural Landmark. In 1981 it was declared a California State Historical Landmark National Register. In 1996, two years after the Northridge earthquake and still in ruin, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Tressa "Grandma" Prisbrey
Tressa Luella Schaefer was born in Easton, Minnesota in 1896. She attended school until the age of twelve and studied mostly politics in North Dakota. At the age of 15, Tressa married the ex-husband of her sister, Theodore Grinolds who was 37 years her senior (52 years old). The marriage with Theordore only lasted 14 years and within those years she bore seven children. After Theodore's passing at age 72, Tressa and her seven children moved up to Seattle where she married an unnamed and unemployed man. Their marriage was very short lived. Over the course of her life, she had witnessed the passing of six out of her seven children (4 boys, 2 girls).
In 1946, Tressa made the move to Santa Susana, California, now known as Simi Valley, California. Ten years after the big move, Tressa met her husband, Al Prisbrey who bought one-third of an acre located on Cochran Street. Both brought in a trailer to live in and removed the tires and hid them in an effort to stay grounded on the lot. When Tressa first moved to Santa Susana, she had a large collection of 17,000 pencils which had previously been her hobby. In an effort to find a place to put them, she decided she wanted to make a house for her pencils to stay. At the age of 60, she began looking around to buy cinder-blocks to build with but came to discover the prices were way out of her range. Tressa stumbled upon a dump where she realized that bottles would be perfect to build with. When she returned home, she realized with her were 1,000,015 bottles. She began going to her sister, Hattie's house and made cement by hand and built her first bottle house by hand. This is when Bottle Village began to take form. Grandma Prisbrey mentioned she did not begin this project to gain attention but as an outpost as well as a place to keep all of her things. She was very much a collector as well as a recycler. She was interested in the fact that everything has a purpose and is special and unique and that is exactly what she brings to bottle village. Not just in the visuals but the overall feeling you receive from being present.
The Village was very much established by 1961 but Grandma kept adding structures and tweaking into the 1980s. She moved away in 1972, but later came back to live in a trailer alongside the village where she continued adding sculptures and flower planters. Prisbrey again left the Village, due to failing health in 1982 at the age of 86, and took residence with her sole-surviving child in San Francisco. In July 1986 the property was gift deeded to the Preserve Bottle Village committee. Tressa Prisbrey died in 1988.
Prisbrey's original idea was to build a wall to keep away the smell and dust of the adjacent turkey farm and to simply create a structure where she could store her 17,000 commemorative pencils. They had spent all their money paying for the property so she resorted to visiting a local dump where she found thousands of colored bottles. She started with a wall and continued to build until she had constructed 16 buildings and structures made of glass and assorted other materials, a mosaic sidewalk, the Leaning Tower of Bottle Village, the Dolls Head Shrine, Cleopatra's Bedroom, the Round House, and more. The Los Angeles Times described Bottle Village as an "eccentric folk-art wonderland."
Bottle Village is seen by art historians and folklorists as a complex work combining the desires of an elderly lady to provide simple shelter for her valued personal collections; memorialize family, friends, and important life events; grieve over the loss of family members; entertain visitors; and leave behind a testament to her very personal vision, exuberance, and inspiration. To national history, Bottle Village is important because it is a significant folk art environment created by an American folk artist of high acclaim, and also because it is a rarity created out of actual mass consumer throwaway from everyday lives of Americans of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
When building bottle village, no help was given and everything is made from hand and all recycled materials. One of the shrines that can be seen at Bottle Village is called The Headlight Garden. This garden was made for her then 35-year-old daughter who had been diagnosed with cancer. Her daughter loved flowers so Tressa decided to make her a rose garden made out of headlights and recycled materials. Before her daughter's passing, she would love to wake up every morning and sit by the garden in silence. According to Tressa, the day her daughter died, the roses died.
There are heart, diamond, and spade stepping stones that symbolize when Tressa visited Los Vegas (Nevada). She made the forms out of cement but then filled them with random recycled things like scissors, etc. Bottle village offers not just buildings made out of bottles but wishing wells made from tiles, the ground is paved with recyclables, a doll shrine, a leaning tower of bottles and much more. Each building also has its own theme. For example, a doll house was built to house Grandma Prisbrey's doll collection which held 600 dolls. Grandma Prisbrey mentioned every day she would go into that house and dress up some of the dolls.
"Anyone can do something with a million dollars. Look at Disney," Prisbrey once said. "But it takes more than money to make something out of nothing, and look at the fun I have doing it." When visitors would come to Bottle Village when Grandma Prisbrey was still alive, she would first take them on a tour but then end in her meditation room where she would allow them to meditate as well as listen to her sing different songs. She would charge only 75 cents a visit but people would frequently give her more.
Earthquake and funding
The 1994 Northridge earthquake struck eight miles away and badly damaged the Village. Because of the severe damage, the Preserve Bottle Village committee applied for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding, receiving almost US$500,000. In 1997, when it appeared FEMA would award a $455,000 grant to help repair the village after the earthquake, the grant was lost after former Councilwoman Sandi Webb and U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Simi Valley, opposed it. Gallegly called it a waste of taxpayers' money. Also, James Lee Witt, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said his organization had determined that the site was not eligible for Federal disaster relief money because it had not been open to the general public since 1984. The Simi Valley Historical Society and Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District recently allocated about $150,000 to restore an apricot pitting shed. The city of Simi Valley also contributed at least $24,000 through Community Development Block Grant funds to restore the 1920s wood shed with concrete pillars, a remnant of the area's apricot industry. Bottle Village is seen as unique to the community, a treasure worth saving, and with the right amount of funds (estimated to be a few hundred thousand dollars) and several months of dedicated restoration, it could happen.
Bottle Village today and volunteering
Ever since the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, Bottle Village has been in dire need of support and funding. The late artist, Joanne Johnson wrote, that the “crumbling Bottle Village is an ironic paradox -- built from castoffs, now cast aside," who was one of the docents, on the board of directions and served for some time as the president on the board. This piece of Folk Art is the definition of the saying “one man's treasure is another man's junk,” because of the disrepair the site is in now, there is very little activity. There are very few people who can still give scheduled tours of the village so personal tours are difficult to book but there are monthly private tours people can sign up to attend at www.bottlevillage.com.
Preserve Bottle village continues preservation efforts, speaking with private foundations. It has received a few generous grants in the past 15 years, from the Larry Janns - School of the Pacific Islands Foundation ($21,000), the Rothschild Foundation ($15,000), and the Gareth Evans - Golden Rule Foundation ($10,000 + $5,000).
Bottle Village is undergoing large repairs and is not open to the public. More information on visiting is available at www.bottlevillage.com. Preserve Bottle Village is a nonprofit group that now owns and oversees the property.
The Village inspired a 32 page children s book Bottle Houses: The Creative World of Grandma Prisbrey by Melissa Eskridge Slaymaker.
She is commemorated every year during Halloween at the Simi Valley Strathearn Park Ghost Tour, which tells the history of Simi Valley in a very entertaining way. 
1974–1976 "Naives and Visionaries", sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
1975 "America Now", sponsored by the U.S. Information Agency (traveling European exhibition)
1976 "Grandma Prisbrey", Woman's Building, Los Angeles, CA (solo exhibition)
1977 "In Celebration of Ourselves", Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA
1979–1981 "A Look at the Art of the 70's", sponsored by the International Communication Agency (traveling exhibition)
1984 "Visions of Paradise", Beyond Baroque, Venice, CA "Bits and Pieces: The Dream-builders of California", Chevron Art Gallery, San Francisco, CA
1985 "Divine Disorder: Folk Art Environments of California", Triton Museum of Art, Santa Clara, CA (traveling exhibition)
1985–1986 "A Time to Reap", Co-sponsored by Seton Hall Univ. NJ, & the Museum of American Folk Art, NY (traveling exhibition)
1986 "Cat and a Ball on a Waterfall: 200 Years of California Painting and Sculpture", Oakland Museum, Oakland, CA
1988 "Not so Naive: Bay Area Artists and Outsider Art", San Francisco Craft & Folk Art Museum, San Francisco, CA
1989 "Forty Years of California Assemblage", UCLA Whyte Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (traveling exhibition) "Women in American Architecture", Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles, CA (traveling exhibition)
1990 "Ageless", the Woman's Building, Los Angeles, CA
1992 "Reflections of Bottle Village", Simi Valley Cultural Center, Simi Valley, CA
1995 "Visions from the Left Coast" Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, Santa Barbara, CA
1996–1999 "Recycled-Reseen" Santa Fe Museum of Art, Santa Fe, New Mexico (traveling)
2000 Outsider Art window display, Hennessy + Ingalls, Santa Monica, CA
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Gallery of images
- "California Historical Landmark: Ventura County". Office of Historic Preservation. California State Parks. Retrieved 2012-10-18.
- Staff (2008-04-15). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
- Cooper, Arnie (2008). "Grandma Prisbrey Built a Village Made of Bottles". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
- Johnson, Joanne. "Grandma Prisbrey Bottle Village". Video Interview. Retrieved 27 February 2012.
- "Grandma Prisbrey's Bottle Village". Retrieved February 27, 2012.
- "Featured Properties for Women's History Month". NPS.gov. Retrieved February 27, 2012.
- Light & Saraf. "Grandma's Bottle Village: The Art of Tressa Prisbrey". Film. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
- Bakalis, Anna. "Simi Valley's Bottle Village is in decay with no fund to restore it". Ventura Star. Retrieved February 20, 2012.
- McKinley, Jesse. "A Village of Bottles Loses Federal Help". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 February 2012.
- "Bottle Village Stuff".
- Harvey, Steve. "A treasure trove of trash withers in Simi Valley". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 February 2012.
- Garcia, Ross. "Grandma Prisbrey's Bottle Village". Preserve Bottle Village Committee. Retrieved 29 February 2012.
- Harvey, Steve. "A treasure trove of trash withers in Simi Valley". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-02-28.
- Bottle Houses: The Creative World of Grandma Prisbrey. Henry Holt & Co. 2004. ISBN 978-0-8050-7131-3.