2006-09-22 / Community

Supporters take a new approach in fight to preserve Bottle Village

Some fear end may be near for the national landmark
By Avi Rutschman avi@theacorn.com

THE ART OF RECYCLING-A picture inside Bottle Village, the Simi Valley landmark crafted out household items. The tourist attraction has been open on an invitation-only basis since the mid '80s. Close to $1 million would be required to renovate the village to meet current safety codes. THE ART OF RECYCLING-A picture inside Bottle Village, the Simi Valley landmark crafted out household items. The tourist attraction has been open on an invitation-only basis since the mid '80s. Close to $1 million would be required to renovate the village to meet current safety codes. Joann Johnson, a Simi Valley resident and former schoolteacher, is taking the fight to save Grandma Prisbrey's Bottle Village to the World Wide Web.

As a member of the Preserve Bottle Village group, Johnson has started an online blog to draw attention to the deteriorating national landmark in Simi Valley. The blog chronicles the history of Bottle Village as well as the people from all over the world who come to visit it.

Despite being closed since 1984 due to unsafe conditions, tours of the landmark are permitted if appointments are made.

Recent visitors have included a senior tour group from Walnut Creek, a family from England and an individual who plans surprise trips for his friends every year.

"These people call and organize tours; they're really interested in seeing Bottle Village. It's not like they just drive by and hope that we are open," Johnson said.

Bottle Village was created by Tressa "Grandma" Prisbrey in 1956. Grandma started constructing unique structures made out of mortar and household items such as bottles on her under-1-acre property.

The site currently has 15 structures, which include the Leaning Tower of Bottle Village, the Dolls Head Shrine and the Shell House.

Bottle Village was named a city, county and state historical landmark in 1979 and was made a national landmark in 1996. Ever since its doors closed, Bottle Village has been struggling to survive. Even though the bank that held the mortgage donated the property, the Preserve Bottle Village group has trouble raising funds to pay the property taxes.

"We owe about $700 in property taxes right now and we haven't had any luck in securing funds," Johnson said.

In order for Bottle Village to be exempt from property taxes, it needs to maintain regular tour hours. But the landmark will remain closed to the public until the site can be brought up to current safety, earthquake and handicap-accessible codes, a project that's estimated cost hovers around $1 million.

"We're losing hope that these funds are going to appear," Johnson said.

Despite the attention that Bottle Village has garnered from people across the U. S. and abroad, few supporters can be found in Simi Valley. Johnson and Pam Silverman, a member of the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce, tried to initiate a project to restore Bottle Village with the help of Chamber members.

"Out of 100 Chamber members, zero people expressed an interest in the project," Johnson said.

The Preserve Bottle Village group has enjoyed some success recently with the recruitment of two new volunteer members. Drew Kennedy, an artist and mom with two young girls, has been volunteering her time to help preserve the landmark.

Katherine Weisman, a private chef, has been helping the organization by manning the hospitality station.

"We like to think of Katherine as the Martha Stewart of Bottle Village," Johnson said.

Johnson is still waiting for her million-dollar man to show up, but until then, she'll continue to chronicle the rich history of Bottle Village and talk about its unique visitors on her online blog.

To read and comment on Johnson's blog, visit www.gotobv.blogspot.com.

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