Long before state Highway 118 sliced through today’s Simi Valley in southeast Ventura County, a spunky old lady almost singlehandedly built a sparkling gem of a home that has survived suburbia, earthquakes (barely) and city hall.
Tressa Prisbrey started creating what became Grandma Prisbrey’s Bottle Village at age 60 in 1956. The folk-art fantasyland originally was intended to house her collection of 10,000 pencils. But it kept growing, eventually consisting of 13 structures assembled from approximately 1 million bottles she retrieved from a nearby dump and mixed with cement. The village housed a chapel, a pyramid of headlights, 20 statues, and a round house complete with round bed, round dresser, and round mirror. Her husband helped her out until his death in the early 1960s.
On her trips to the dump, Prisbrey also accumulated a huge doll collection–which she built a separate house for–and other materials she used as building materials. As the suburbs encroached, visitors started showing up, and to accommodate them she built a sidewalk from broken tiles and other found objects, including license plates, bottle caps, and buttons. Throughout the village, she used broken ceramic tiles, horseshoes, keys, vases, doll heads, fluorescent tubes, TV sets, and whatever else she thought was interesting.
Other structures adorning the one-third-acre site include Cleopatra’s Bedroom, the Shell House, a wishing well, and a multidenominational shrine, all glowing brightly when the sun streams through the multicolored bottles. Inside the rooms are floor-to-ceiling collections of old dolls, toy animals, photographs, and other items she found fanciful. She also built a bottle wall around the village, a cactus garden, and mosaic walkways of cement and found objects.
“They call me an artist–even though I can’t draw a car that looks like one,” Prisbrey once said. She completed the village by 1961 but kept adding structures and tweaking into the ’80s, adding sculptures and flower planters. She enjoyed visitors, and dyed her white cats different colors with food coloring to amuse all who stopped by.
The village was eventually recognized as a folk-art treasure and featured in numerous exhibitions, including “Naives and Visionaries,” sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Plaques on the site recognize it as California Registered Historical Landmark No. 939, and as being listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Prisbrey died in 1988 at age 92. Bottle Village remains, surrounded by apartments, homes, businesses, and shopping centers, despite efforts by the city and a congressman to eradicate it. The 1994 Northridge earthquake almost did it for them, causing serious damage to all but one of the structures and knocking several to the ground. The Preserve Bottle Village Committee is working to repair the site, and conducts public tours several times a year. Here is the 2015 schedule; all tours begin at 10 a.m.:
$10 per adult, $5 per child. All tours must be paid for in advance on the village’s Tour Page. Each visitor is required to complete and sign a Waiver of Liability form, available online, and bring it on tour day.
4595 Cochran St.
Simi Valley, CA 93062
RSVPs and information: