Picking gum off the bottom of your shoe after you accidentally step in it on the sidewalk can be difficult, not to mention gross.
Now imagine cleaning an estimated 1 million pieces of gum — some of which are 20 years old — off a brick wall. Yikes.
That, however, is precisely what’s set to happen to Seattle’s famous gum wall in the Pike Place Market. NPR member station KUOW in Seattle reports that it began in 1991 when theater-goers started sticking their gum to the wall as they waited in line. It was once named the second-germiest tourist spot in the world behind Ireland’s Blarney stone, and it has been featured on Instagram nearly 100,000 times.
Despite their living-art status, the sticky wads must go. Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority spokeswoman Emily Crawford told The Seattle Times that removing the gum is necessary to protect the historic buildings in the Market district.
“It was never part of the charter or the history of the Market to have the walls covered with gum,” she said. “Gum is made of chemicals, sugar, additives. Things that aren’t good for us. I can’t imagine it’s good for brick.”
So how will the de-gumming operation go down?
Kelly Foster of Cascadian Building Maintenance, the company contracted to handle the job, said the gum will be removed with an “industrial steam machine that works like a pressure washer,” the Times reports. The newspaper says it’ll cost around $4,000 and adds that:
“The machine will melt the gum with 280-degree steam; it will fall to the ground, and a two- to three-man crew will collect the gum in five-gallon buckets. ‘This is probably the weirdest job we’ve done,’ Foster said.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, the process will begin on Nov. 10 and take around three days to complete, leaving the wall gum-free and squeaky clean — at least for now.
“We’re not saying it can’t come back,” Crawford told the Seattle newspaper. “We need to wipe the canvas clean and keep (it) fresh.”
Mercedes Carrabba, who owns Market Ghost Tours and Ghost Alley Espresso in the Pike Place Market, told KUOW’s David Hyde that she’s excited about the cleaning, noting that some portions of the wall have been scrubbed in the past.
“It’s like an organism — it grows back. Or like a lost limb, it returns,” she said. “That’s actually the most exciting part, is having people continue to interact with it. Even if it goes away briefly, it still comes back.”