Grandma Prisbrey's Bottle VillageTressa ‘Grandma’ Prisbrey (1896-1988)

Status

Extant

Address

4595 Cochran St. , Simi Valley, CA, 93063, us

Built

1956-1965

Visiting Information

Although officially closed, the site may be viewed by appointment.

About the Artist/Site

Tressa Prisbrey was born in the farming community of Easton, Minnesota, to parents of German heritage. The youngest of eight children, she soon moved with her family to homestead in Minot, North Dakota. At the age of 15, she married her elder sister’s former husband, 52-year-old Theodore Grinolds. The couple had seven children, six of whom died as adults. Grinolds’ died in 1931. Tressa headed west a decade later sometime after 1941, living in Seattle for a time. By 1947 she had moved to Simi Valley, California, and married a local man, Al Prisbrey. They eventually bought a small parcel of land—one-third of an acre—just downwind of a nearby poultry farm.

Asserting that cement blocks were too expensive for the initial retaining wall and storage shed she needed, Prisbrey went to the dump in her Studebaker pickup, and collected the bottles and other discards she would use for building materials. In later years she told visitors she was motivated by the need to house her extensive pencil collection (variously numbered at between 2,000 and 17,000 items) but after she built her “Pencil House,” she continued building, ultimately creating 13 small houses and other structures linked together with colorful mosaic pathways.

As she constructed, furnished, and embellished her rooms with findings from the dump, Prisbrey began to cultivate a new identity and became known as “Grandma.” She recited anecdotes and accounts of her premonitions as she escorted guests through her “Bottle Village,” pointing out interesting features, and singing and playing the piano in a structure she called “the Meditation Room.”

In 1979, when Prisbrey was 83 years old, a group interested in safeguarding the site’s future formed the Preserve Bottle Village Committee (PBVC.)  Through their efforts, “Bottle Village” was declared a Ventura County Cultural Landmark, and in 1981, they secured its recognition as a California Registered Historical Landmark.

Her health failing, Tressa Prisbrey moved to San Francisco in 1982 to live with her one remaining daughter. She died six years later.

In 1994, a magnitude 6.7 earthquake caused severe structural damage to “Bottle Village.” Federal emergency funds were initially promised, but the offer was withdrawn after opponents protested the use of taxpayer money to aid constructions made of “garbage.” Despite this setback, the site was added to the National Register for Historic Places  in 1996, and a reinvigorated, all-volunteer PBVC has accomplished some restoration. Although officially closed, the site may be viewed by appointment.

~This entry has been adapted from Verni Greenfield’s 1986 Making Do or Making Art by Jo Farb Hernandez.

 

Materials

bottles, concrete, dolls, found objects, pencils, tile

SPACES Archives Holdings

Doll and chair by Prisbrey, correspondence, clippings, and approximately 300 photographic prints, slides and negatives.

Related Documents

Map & Site Information

4595 Cochran St.
Simi Valley, CA, 93063 us
Latitude/Longitude: 34.279458 / -118.704647

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