Photo by STEPHEN SHAFER
“Anyone can do anything
with a million dollars. . . .
But it takes more than
money to make something
out of nothing.”
Those are the words of the late Tressa Prisbrey, the visionary who built what came to be known as Grandma Prisbrey’s Bottle Village. But her words hardly explain what motivated the then-60-year-old grandmother to begin a project that would result in 15 structures all constructed of discarded bottles and other odd found items.
The first structure, a 6-foot wall, was meant to block the feathers from the turkey farm next door. But others say Tressa began building because she needed some place to put her collection of pencils, which eventually numbered 17,000. Clearly the village became a kind of obsession for the woman who hailed from the Midwest, married a much older man, and eventually migrated to Simi Valley.
In her most prolific years—1956 to 1961—Grandma Prisbey was commonly spotted driving her truck to the dump or picking through discarded TV tubes. Those tubes now line the main walkway.
Bottle Village was, and is, a quirky work of folk art, infused with Tressa Prisbrey’s wry sense of humor (she fashioned one garden using trashed industrial springs because “every woman should have a spring garden”).
Today the property is one of California’s Twentieth Century Folk Art Environments and a California Historical Landmark. The 1994 Northridge earthquake caused major damage to the buildings and faithful supporters are fundraising with hopes of restoring Bottle Village to its original odd splendor. But even with many of its structures downed, it regularly attracts visitors from all over the world.
Grandma Prisbrey, who had several hundred varieties of cactuses on the land, didn’t care much for cactus plants. “They remind me of myself,” she said in her memoirs. “They are independent, prickly, and ask nothing from anybody.” —L.G.H.