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Tressa "Grandma" Prisbrey, Photo by Joanne Johnson

Tressa "Grandma" Prisbrey

(1896–1988)

Tressa "Grandma" Prisbrey's long life could be described as anything but ordinary – even before she began to fashion her famous bottle village. At fifteen years old, she married her first husband, a 52-year-old man named Theodore Grinolds in Minot, North Dakota. Together they had seven children before separating in the late 1920s. Prisbrey took her children and worked part-time as a waitress, entertaining by singing and playing the piano.

In the 1940s, Grandma Prisbrey moved to Simi Valley, California, and married her husband, Albert Prisbrey. The newlywed couple parked their trailer there, and in hopes of "settling down" Grandma Prisbrey removed the wheels of the trailer and hid them. In 1956, the construction of her now-famous bottle village began, first as just a small structure to house her collection of 17,000 commemorative pencils. "I went to get cement blocks to build this house for my pencils and my God, they were so expensive, so I went over to the dump and I thought, 'I'm going to make it out of bottles...'" And she did, beginning with bottles discarded from her husband's "bad habit", then moving on to comb through the nearby dump for materials and inspiration. The result of 25 years of work was 13 buildings which make up Grandma Prisbrey's Bottle Village.

The Bottle Village became a pop icon, in 1974, Prisbrey charged visitors 25 cents for tours which often ended with her at the piano, performing risque songs from the 1920s for her visitors. In 1981, it became a California State Historical Landmark, where it stood until 1994, when a devastating earthquake caused considerable damage to the Village. Since then, efforts from FEMA and many others have been made to repair the Bottle Village to its original quality, though some politicians have fought against the restoration, considering it a "waste of money".

Links:

WATCH the film Grandma's Bottle Village by Allie Light and Irving Saraf, Light-Saraf Films at: http://www.folkstreams.net/film,102

To learn more about Tressa "Grandma" Prisbrey & her Bottle Village, visit: http://www.vanace.com/BV/index.htm