Grandma Prisbrey’s Bottle Village in Simi Valley--that wacky collection of 22 buildings and sculptures built by hand from bottles, tiles, headlights and other discarded items from the city dump--is in trouble again.
No stranger to adversity, the village was nearly demolished in 1982 to make way for condominiums. After a bitter struggle with the developer, members of the Preserve Bottle Village Committee purchased the property and prevented the destruction of the quirky folk-art site, which they planned to open for public tours.
But the village, created over a 20-year period by Tressa (Grandma) Prisbrey to house her collection of 17,000 pencils, more than 500 dolls, books, seashells and other bric-a-brac, is threatened now by the ravages of time. A wall of one of the structures collapsed during a recent earthquake. The other buildings are equally fragile. All need reinforcement if they are to remain upright. Unless steps are taken soon, the village’s very existence is in jeopardy.
“If it goes another five or 10 years like this, the whole thing is just going to collapse completely,” said Joanne Johnson, a member of the preservation committee for the last eight years.
Two years ago, Johnson said, the committee members had a plan to turn their dream of opening the village as a museum into reality. Political bickering and ideological conflict, however, prevented them from advancing their cause.
They had hoped to raise $100,000 by now to pay for seismic safety renovations required by the city before the tours can begin. But no money has been raised, and the property’s gates remain padlocked.
But members of the recently reconstituted committee say that “a new era” has dawned and the group is launching a new push to realize the goal. Leaders said Prisbrey’s death last October at age 92 renewed the committee’s determination to save her work. And the committee drew new members from among those who had known her.
The challenges they face include fund raising and finding parking places for visitors--a prerequisite for obtaining a city permit allowing the village, located in a residential neighborhood, to be opened to the public.
In addition, they must find experts in glass work to do the restoration.
“It’s a very, very delicate operation, " Johnson said, adding: “You can’t just turn construction workers loose on the place.”
Next month the group will learn whether it has won a state grant. Several events to raise money and local interest are also planned. An engineering firm’s drawings detailing the restoration procedure should be complete soon.
Despite the remaining obstacles, Johnson said she believes that Bottle Village can be saved.
“I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t believe it would work,” Johnson said. “The reality sometimes drives me into the ground, but I am strangely optimistic.
“I think (Prisbrey) has made a tremendous contribution to art and women and the statement that is at Bottle Village is very important in today’s world,” she added.