“Anyone can do something with a million dollars. Look at Disney. But it takes more than money to make something out of nothing, and look at the fun I have doing it.”
~ Tressa Prisbrey
In 1956 a California woman by the name of Tressa Prisbrey known as “Grandma” to most, began her foray into architecture. By using predominantly discarded beer bottles and other found material from the local dump, the sixty-year-old grandmother started turning her tiny one-third acre property in Simi Valley into something she’d always dreamed of having—she wanted to get rid of the trailer she’d lived in and build an actual house.
Never one with a lot of extra cash on hand, Tressa’s first choice was to use cinder blocks. But cinder blocks were too expensive for her budget. Instead, Tressa improvised. She began looking around her area and started foraging for discarded bottles. Thanks to a nearby landfill, colored glass bottles were a plentiful resource.
Long before recycling gained traction, Tressa took her castoffs and built the house she wanted. She mixed her own cement by hand, and with perseverance, she eventually added fountains and walkways for curb appeal around the original house.
Between 1961 and 1980, Tressa didn’t let up. Her property became known as “Bottle Village.” They called it a village because over the years Tressa built a wall to close it off from the smelly turkey farm adjacent to her property. Tressa eventually added sixteen buildings, themed rooms, a shrine, and a mosaic sidewalk. Somewhere along the way, Tressa’s daughter developed cancer, so Tressa made her a rose garden out of recycled headlights from assorted junk cars left at the dump. Up to 1982 she would give tours of the place, charging 75 cents a head. Visitors often were so blown away by what she’d built out of trash that they gave much more.
Tressa died in 1988 without realizing she’d created a legacy of folk art that would stand until the 1994 Northridge earthquake hit. The earthquake severely damaged the property wrecking much of Tressa’s hard work. After that, community artists rallied and tried to save Tressa’s work but with little success. Still, in 1996 the property became California Historic Landmark No. 939. To this day, a group of artists maintain the Preserve Bottle Village Committee website in hopes of raising enough money to restore Tressa’s project for all to see and enjoy.
Bottle Village remains a testament to one woman’s creativity at a time when she had very little money to work with and relied on her artistic vision.