Growing Up With Bottle Village
If you asked me to describe Bottle Village in one word I’d have to say art. But it would be hard to stop there. It is more than just art. I feel like I grew up with Bottle Village always weaving in and out of my life and molding the adult I am today. In the early 90’s I went to Bottle Village often with my mom. She was on the board for a (very) long time and the president for some of the time. I’d go there (get dragged there) to help pull weeds or do other clean up. Not fun for a teen, but I did it. I remember roaming the buildings and finding something fascinating and running to find my mom to bring her back to see it and forgetting which building I had been in. Bottle Village was a wonderland. A place to explore for hours. I’d often be mesmerized by the mosaics, dolls, trinkets, and walk building to building, lost in my own thoughts.
Celebrating Grandma Prisbrey’s Birthday. Cerra 1988.
Picture of Grandma Prisbrey
Senior Recycling Art
Tressa (also known as Thresie) Luella Schafer (now affectionately known as Grandma Prisbrey) was born on a homestead in 1896 in Minnesota. When she was 15 she became a sister-bride, marrying her sister’s ex-husband, 52-year-old Theodore Grinolds. They had seven children. Earl (b.1913), Raymond (b.1914), Frank (b.1916), Velma (b.1918), Othea (b.1920), Florence (b.1925) and Hubert (b.1926). Grandma Prisbrey leaves her husband in the 20’s, travels to the Pacific Northwest in the 30’s and settles in Santa Susana (now known as Simi Valley) in 1946. In 1947 she married her second husband, Al Prisbrey.
In 1954-55 she needs surgery and sells her house and buys the lot that is now known as Bottle Village. She started building Bottle Village in 1956. The first things she built was a wall to keep turkey feathers and mud off of her property from the farm next door. She found out bricks were expensive and decided to create her own wall by using discarded bottles and mixing her own cement. She built a wall 6 feet high and over 200 feet long. Next came a building to store her pencil collection. She collected pencils in her travels, namely political pencils. They eventually numbered over 17,000. From there she built more and more. Some of the buildings are the Rumpus Room, Cleopatra’s bedroom, the Round House, the Schoolhouse Most of the major construction completed by 1961 but she continued to add more on top of tables, create more mosaics, repair dolls and dress them, sometimes sewing new clothes for them and adding to the structures. She often gave tours to people passing by and entertained her guests by playing the piano in the Rumpus Room. During this time she was also babysitting some grandchildren on the property.
Grandma Prisbrey gathered things in her daily trips to the dump. Headlights, beer bottles, Milk of Magnesia Bottles, dolls, old licence plates, toy guns, etc. She created mosaics, decorated bottles, filled the walkways with her art. People would drop off items to her and some would visit for a tour and upon returning home in other states or countries would mail her more to add to her collections.
Just imagine! She was 60-years-old when she started Bottle Village
Grandma Prisbrey passed away in 1988 at the age of 92. In that time she had some battles keeping the property and out of that rose a non-profit to help protect Bottle Village. Preserve Bottle Village is a group of passionate volunteers that dedicate time to help give tours, fundraise, do repairs and educate others on this local treasure. It has become a California State Historical Landmark, has had exhibits toured in Europe, has had visitors from all over the world and is even in public school textbooks.
Bottle Village isn’t only art.
- It is recycling ahead of the times.
- It is senior art.
- It is upcycling.
- It is a historic site.
There is so much it is impossible to describe it in one word.
Inside the Round House
Some of the Mosaics inside the Round House
What Goes Up Must Come Down
At one time Bottle Village consisted of 13 buildings and 22 structures, wishing wells, mosaic walk ways and more. In January, 1994 the Northridge Earthquake hit and a great amount of damage happened to Bottle Village. Now many buildings are destroyed and others visibly damaged. So much needs to be done but funds are needed. Preserve Bottle Village has been working to get the buildings repaired so future generations can visit. If you’d like to help we are always in need of docents, grant writers, help with tours, grounds keeping, community awareness, etc. Preserve Bottle village continues preservation efforts, giving private tours to visitors. Currently visitors can tour the grounds but can not go inside the remaining buildings due to repairs in progress.
Outside the Round House and Grandma Prisbrey’s ‘Spring Garden’ on the ground.
Grandma Prisbrey’s Doll Head Shrine. This either a love or hate structure by visitors.
I’m now an adult and Bottle Village has come full circle. I’m now on the board, giving tours and helping out. I’m now dragging my kids to Bottle Village. I love being here! Seeing people that have lived in the neighborhood a few decades share memories of their childhood knowing Grandma Prisbrey. People from all over the world emailing us, wanting tours, sharing memories and photos. School children writing letters after learning about Bottle Village in their classrooms.
I can wander the grounds of Bottle Village and after all these years have something catch my eye that I’ve never seen before.
In memory of Joanne Johnson. She dedicated much of her life to Bottle Village. Not only was she a close family friend, she was a self-anointed fairy godmother to my children.
If you’d like to learn more, visit or donate check out these sites:
If you have been to Bottle Village or read about it, share your favorite memory.
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