Success stories of people embarking on new passions later in life are abundant. Julia Child launched her cooking show at fifty-one years old, Charles Darwin published The Theory of Evolution at fifty, Harland (Colonel) Sanders franchised Kentucky Fried Chicken at sixty-one, and Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t write her Little House on the Prairie series until she was sixty-five. See Success Over 50: Top 10 Career Success Stories | Careline365 for more over-fifty success stories.
Simi Valley likely has its fair share of late bloomers who have brightened up the already sunny town, but my favorite is the story of Tressa "Grandma" Prisbrey (1896–1988). At nearly sixty years old, she embarked upon a massive folk art project in her yard, crafting buildings from old bottles and whatever else she could find. Houses and outbuildings fashioned of colored glass, cement, doll heads, and equal amounts of creativity produced a masterpiece. Her creation of over a dozen buildings and twenty sculptures, all comprised of landfill treasures, hides its magnificence in a residential neighborhood on Cochran Street in Simi Valley. If you’re not careful, you’ll miss it. And you don’t want to miss it.
Per the Preserve Bottle Village website, Tressa was born in Easton, Minnesota but found her way to Santa Susana, California (the original name of Simi Valley). Tressa started the whimsical project on her .3 acre lot in 1956. Sunshine, the near-constant, warm, refreshing breezes, and resultant natural wind-chime rustle of the palm trees surely inspired her. She didn't stop work on her "Village" until 1981 when she was eighty-five years old. Twenty-five years of creative sculpting transformed thousands of discarded bottles into vibrant glass houses and structures.
Per Legends of America, Grandma Prisbrey passed away on October 5, 1988, at the age of 92 in a nursing home outside of San Francisco, California. A reporter who spoke with her the day before she died reported Grandma said, “I’m going home to my Bottle Village.”
Bottle Village has been designated as a historical landmark by the City of Simi Valley, County of Ventura, and State of California California Historical Landmark No. 939. It’s also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1994, the Bottle Village was badly damaged by the Northridge earthquake centered eight miles away. The Preserve Bottle Village Committee, a non-profit organization, repaired the damage wherever possible and works to keep the village intact.
For up-to-date news on this attraction, visit the Preserve Bottle Village Facebook page and make sure to stop by 4595 Cochran Street, Simi Valley, CA and take a peek. If it’s not open for tours, you can get a nice glimpse from the gate. To learn more, watch this wonderful documentary of Grandma Prisbrey by the American Visionary Art Museum.
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