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News / Northwest

Seattle’s gum wall to be cleaned

Popular Post Alley site is sporting 20 years of buildup

By Evan Bush, The Seattle Times
Published: November 10, 2015, 6:05am
2 Photos
Silvia Lim&#039;s gum bubble bursts as she records with her phone. Visiting from Sweden, she takes a selfie at the gum wall attraction in Seattle&#039;s Post Alley. The gum wall will be scrubbed clean beginning today for the first time in its existence.
Silvia Lim's gum bubble bursts as she records with her phone. Visiting from Sweden, she takes a selfie at the gum wall attraction in Seattle's Post Alley. The gum wall will be scrubbed clean beginning today for the first time in its existence. (Photos by Alan Berner/Seattle Times) Photo Gallery

SEATTLE — Once named the world’s second-germiest tourist attraction, Pike Place Market’s gum wall in Seattle will today be scrubbed of 20 years’ buildup of sugary stickum.

Emily Crawford, a spokeswoman for the Pike Place Market Preservation & Development Authority, said the gum wall is cleaned “every other month” by the PDA with a steamer, but this will be the first time all the gum is removed from the original wall.

The PDA has hired a contractor, Cascadian Building Maintenance, “because it’s going to be a very large job,” Crawford said.

Kelly Foster, of Cascadian Building Maintenance, said the gum will be removed with an “industrial steam machine that works like a pressure washer.”

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 5-gallon buckets.

“This is probably the weirdest job we’ve done,” Foster said. Crawford said the PDA estimates about 1 million pieces of gum are adhered to the walls of Post Alley, in some places 6 inches thick. The job is expected to cost $4,000.

More accurate figures on the amount of gum could be forthcoming. “We want to weigh it,” she said.

Crawford said the gum needs to be cleaned off the walls to preserve the historic buildings in the Market district.

“It was never part of 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.”

Crawford said cleaning will begin today. The job will likely take three or four days.

Colorful globs of salivated chew will no doubt return shortly, the PDA expects.

“We’re not saying it can’t come back,” Crawford said. “We need to wipe the canvas clean and keep fresh.”

The PDA hopes that fresh start hinders gum-wall sprawl. In recent years, Crawford said gum has advanced to new turf “far beyond the original wall.”

Her hypothesis: “It’s so gross,” she said. “People don’t actually want to touch or get near the gum wall. They’re looking for empty surfaces.”

The PDA plans to place more public art in the alleyway and hopes having 20 years of gum removed will keep future visitors more targeted in placing their gum. Meantime, the Market is holding a photo contest on its Facebook page, where people can vote on favorite gum-wall pictures.

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