Seattle’s gum wall will be scrubbed down, and deep cleaned, for the first time in 20 years. The unusual tourist attraction, which is located in the Pike Place Market district, has been a point of interest since the early 1990s. However, city officials are concerned, as the layers of gum may be destroying historical buildings.
The bizarre display was started by Market Theater guests, who were often forced to stand in long lines waiting for admission to the show.
As reported by the Seattle Times, the ticketholders initially used pieces of chewed gum to stick pennies to the exterior of the theater building. However, as the coins easily became dislodged, the pennies were soon forgotten.
Pike Place Market officials ordered the theater owners to remove the gum in the mid-1990s. However, despite their best efforts, visitors simply kept adding more wads of gum to the infamous wall.
— KSL (@KSLcom) November 4, 2015
Although they initially criticized the gum-covered wall an unsanitary eyesore, Pike Place Market officials gave up and declared the Seattle gum wall an official tourist attraction in 1999.
Over the last 20 years, the wall accumulated an estimated one million wads of used gum. At certain points, the layers are more than six inches deep.
As the wall continues to gain popularity, some visitors have gotten creative. Amid the customary “wads” of gum, there are numerous rudimentary sculptures — including hearts, initials, and country flags.
Although it started with one specific wall, Pike Place Market Preservation & Development Authority Emily Crawford said the gum is now showing up on other buildings throughout the district.
— Molly Garrity (@MollyGarrity) November 3, 2015
Crawford said the walls are cleaned to a certain degree “every other month.” However, Seattle’s gum wall has not had a proper scrubbing or a deep cleaning in 20 years.
In addition to being time-consuming, it will cost an estimated $4,000 to remove the unsanitary mess.
Cascadian Building Maintenance representative Kelly Foster said the walls will be cleaned using pressurized steam. Although the method is expected to be effective, it will be tedious.
Foster said the steam, which is heated to 280 degrees, will essentially melt the gum off the wall. It will them be collected from the ground — and weighed. The entire process is expected to take up to four days.
Representatives with the Pike Place Market Preservation & Development Authority said the deep cleaning will allow maintenance crews to assess any damage to the original brick.
Crawford said she is “not saying [the gum] can’t come back.” However, she believes it is time to “wipe the canvas clean” and start over.
Although it is unusual, Seattle’s gum wall is not unique. San Luis Obispo, California, has a similar attraction called Bubblegum Alley.
As reported by Mental Floss, Bubblegum Alley was started in the 1950s — and is currently “70 feet long and 15 feet high.” Although many visitors simply stick their used gum to the wall, others used their gum to sculpt bizarre works of art.
According to reports, the walls of Bubblegum Alley have not been cleaned since the 1970s. Downtown Association administrator Deborah Holley said the last attempt was a major disaster.
“… the fire department hosed the alley down one year, the result wasn’t pretty: Instead of falling off the walls and hitting the ground, thousands of pieces of chewed gum were blasted high into the air and rained down on people nearby. They ran waving their arms from a gum-storm that day.”
San Luis Obispo residents have petitioned for the removal of the mess on numerous occasions. However, the unusual display is protected by the Chamber of Commerce, which declared Bubblegum Alley a “special attraction.”
Seattle’s gum wall is scheduled for a deep cleaning next week. Although it will certainly be a fresh start, city officials do not expect the walls to stay clean for long.
[Image via Shutterstock/GKOzawa]