Grant Sought to Fix Bottle Village : Landmark: Restoration experts hope to restore the Simi Valley site with federal disaster funds. It was devastated in last year's quake.


After months of study a group of restoration experts is putting the final touches on a federal disaster grant application to repair Simi Valley's historic Bottle Village, which was devastated by last year's earthquake.

The ramshackle property is covered with folk art structures pieced together over more than 30 years by the eccentric Tressa Prisbrey, known to local residents as "Grandma Prisbrey."

Prisbrey used thousands of old bottles, TV tubes, dolls and other discarded objects to assemble a decidedly unique array of small buildings on her one-acre property on Cochran Street.

Even before the Jan. 17 earthquake last year, Bottle Village had fallen into such disrepair that it was off-limits to the public. A volunteer effort was under way to raise money to reopen the village, but the quake stopped that, damaging all but one of the 33 structures on the site and knocking several to the ground.

"The quake changed everything," said Janice Wilson, a volunteer who has served as Bottle Village's caretaker for more than three years. "Nothing was the same after the earthquake. We were swimming around trying to figure out where we would go next."

Concerned about public safety, city officials even contemplated condemning the property long thought of as a folk art treasure.

But several preservationists came to the rescue.

Bud Goldstone, an engineer who wrote a million-dollar proposal to restore the quake-damaged Watts Towers, helped put together the restoration effort for Bottle Village.

With the help of Al Okuma, an Oxnard-based architect, and Zulema Aguirre, a fine arts conservator from Los Angeles, Goldstone drew up a proposal to restore Bottle Village.

He estimates that the effort could cost between $200,000 and $500,000, and could take up to two years to finish. The cost, he said, depends on the extent of restoration.

At the low end, the team would only "preserve the ruins"--hinting at the site's former condition with the use of photographs and leaving several walls in their present state of disrepair.

If the team is awarded the larger grant, it will be able to restore most of the buildings, while also making them safe for visitors in case of a future quake. One or two structures may not be restorable, Goldstone said.

Although he is confident that the team will get grant money, he said, there are no guarantees. The team will cite in their grant proposal a favorable review done by experts at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Santa Monica.

If the federal disaster grant is approved, work will be under the district guidelines of historic restoration that requires that the structure is put back together with only the original material.

"The work we are proposing meets the requirements and international standards for historic preservation," Goldstone said. "We aren't going to redo what grandma did. If a structure cannot be restored with original material, then we have to preserve the ruin and use pictures, say, to hint at what it once looked like."

Wilson said although Bottle Village has been cleaned up since the earthquake, no material was thrown away. The bottles--most of them unbroken--are kept in piles near the structures they came from.

Architect Okuma, who worked on the restoration of the Peirano Market in downtown Ventura, said the second challenge is to make the buildings safe without making major alterations.

The team is considering several options, including using steel columns inside the mortar walls of the structures or building elaborate external frames to support the buildings, Okuma said. Visitors might not be able to enter some of the buildings, but will be able to peer inside, he said.

Whatever they decide to do, the work will be difficult, he said.

"This is not something that you can just go out and hire a contractor to do," Okuma said. "Everyone out there will have to have experience in preservation. It will take a lot of careful work."

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