Grandma Prisbrey & The Delicate Find To Her Bottle Village

The town of all things day and night, the ever-polarizing stigmatization of sorts– the site location for Tressa “Grandma” Prisbrey’s Bottle Village in Simi Valley is easily one of the most overlooked properties one can imagine in anticipation before arrival. This historical site which few of the city patrons know about, (unless you are a nearby resident) the initial reaction is to drive right past the bottle village which happens quite often. And yes, once the venturing around the site begins, there are a lot of bottles to take in.

grandmaprisbreybottlesPhoto CC: @mojmehrassa

Tressa’s endeavor began with the initiative to house and store her extensive 70,000 pencil collection that she valued dearly. The Simi Landfill hosted the assemblage of materials she transported by wagon which came to construct the Bottle Village. Tressa making daily trips to the landfill to collect and bring back found items, readymades, and uniform recyclables such as: glass bottles, dolls, and springs to build thirteen buildings, twenty sculptures, mosaic walkways, fountains, and dedicated shrines. As if using almost an intuitive technic, Tressa in rogue fashion formulated all designs herself of each individual piece made from concrete cement and sand mix embellishing her collectables from the landfill. Illuminating her personality and handiwork in everything she created, decoding her vision of folk art beauty that prying locals were caught up unable to pinpoint insanity or genius within this unapologetically eccentric grandmother figure.

bottledetailsinbuildings                  Photo CC: @mojmehrassa

She had lavish names for each of the different buildings i.e. the ‘Cleopatra Room’, the ‘Meditation Room’, ‘Las Vegas Card Suits’ or ‘Leaning Tower of Bottle Village’; she encompassed a menagerie of motifs repetitiously gave character, personality, and a bit of culture to the projection of what she wanted a specific building or sculpture to symbolize, (check out the National Park Service Featured Properties for more). Tressa would come in contact with others that saw value in her project and donated items like expensive French Rococo furniture to furnish some of the buildings and even to the complete opposite where people who came on her tours would steal items they collected themselves, taking away from the fullness happening more times often than not.

blueheartbottlesPhoto CC: @mojmehrassa

Backpedaling briefly to delve into the landscape of her family and the reoccurring dissatisfaction of losing those that she loved – originally from North Dakota, Grandma Prisbrey’s voyage out west and having hopped around from place to place finally landing in Simi Valley was bittersweet. She traveled in a trailer with her seven children who all died from cancer before she passed in her early 90s. It has been rumored her children were exposed to a toxic waste that was found in the soil from a nuclear dump facility near her home in North Dakota. Evidently, she also lost two husbands to death and with an even stranger series of events having non-coincidently fates of two courtships ending in death. It is reasonable to suspect that the Bottle Village is a therapeutic vessel for Tressa to channel and release the hardship that she had faced throughout her lifetime – once you take the tour I’ll let you decide.


Photo CC: @mojmehrassa

Though brazenly misunderstood, there is an air of mystery to this brave woman of art folklore who has a history of singing in bars and having an undisclosed stint in politics; much can only be interpreted by her “Knotts-Berry Farm” inspired Bottle Village. Tressa’s celerity and imaginative practicality infused an idea that was beyond its years of postmodern consumerism critique. In retrospect, it has been quite en vogue for artists ranging from Vik Muniz, Noah Purifoy, to Simon Rodia to use readymade objects to bring their folk art designs and viewpoints together taking a stand to socio-economic displacement and political issues to fruition. Tressa gave up guided tours once she sold the Bottle Village’s property in 1972 to tend to the health of her son, Hubert Grinolds. Later, the site was preserved and having been accepted onto the California Registered Historical Landmark NO. 939, a plaque placed by the State Department of Parks and Recreation in tandem with Preserve Bottle Village in October 1996, a complete forty years after Tressa’s vision took shape.

cleopatraroomPhoto CC: @mojmehrassa

Today, the Bottle Village under tremendous support is managed under the Preserve Bottle Village Committee, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that works in conjunction with the Watts Towers and the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. When it comes to vision, Tressa left a legacy impacted with controversy and a merciless fight to do what makes one happy. She dealt and overcame much societal adversity of being misjudged by up-cycling (taking things from the trash) that no one did, others stealing from her, and overall seeing many of her loved ones pass too soon. The collective conscious of Simi Valley is the binary of love and hate – and that is exactly what she faced on the continuum. Without a doubt of balance, humanity was also working within her favor. She had support from those in the community that could see her vision and people at the landfill who left her stash piles to go through of things that she normally collected. Her success did not come overnight though every step no matter how big or how small made a difference each day. Irregardless of your starting point, a testament that just goes to show creativity has no limits even when adversaries are unrelenting to your efforts, Grandma Prisbrey’s story is one that can be borrowed and leaned upon. For a comprehensive timeline, dates for tours, volunteering, general information, and purchasing tickets can be checked out on the Bottle Village Website including the PDF waiver that is required before visiting.

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