At Seattle’s Gum Wall, has the bubble burst?
As tourism to the city has exploded in the last decade, the Wall has gone from quaint idiosyncrasy that even many locals had no clue about to major attraction, and the gum went from sometimes ingenious to possible health concern.
The Gum Wall got washed away a few weeks ago. But based on what happened between the Wall's most recent previous scrubbing last September and now, you might want to buy stock in Wrigley.
The unlikely attraction dominates an alley at Seattle's Pike Place Market. The short version of the tale is that the staff at a small theater there cleaned one too many wads of chewing gum off the seats and banned the stuff in the mid-'90s. But many of the patrons, being smart-aleck artist types, began pressing offerings into the bricks outside. Some of the alley artists fashioned multicolored versions of famous Seattle images like the Space Needle and ferry boats, even 10 feet above the street. And the Wall became a Thing.
As tourism to the city exploded in the last decade, the Wall went from quaint idiosyncrasy that even many locals had no clue about to major attraction, and the gum went from sometimes ingenious to possible health concern. The first power-washing was in 2015, two decades after the gum began collecting. And again last year, just over a month after I visited for probably my sixth time over 12 years. In August, I walked past and was stunned that the gum had spread farther than I had ever seen and at how many people were pulling gum from their mouths and plastering it wherever they could, some with their business cards. There was a guy shooting portraits of people in front of the wall for a fee, because sometimes a selfie just won't do.
For the record, I do not tell the neighbor kids to get off my lawn. But for the first time at the Gum Wall, I felt no sense of wonder and instead was embarrassed that I had dragged a young friend, visiting Seattle for the first time, to see it.
I'm thinking that the cleaned wall is now the unique attraction.