How do you create a local landmark? It usually helps to be a sculptor or an architect. But in some cities, all you need is a working jaw and a strong stomach.
Both Seattle and San Luis Obispo are famous for their sticky, rainbow-colored gum walls. In both towns, the walls survived several clean-up efforts (think firehoses and ice scrapers) before officials gave in and embraced them as landmarks.
The two dueling gross-out attractions have some key differences, though. The gum layers in Seattle are thicker, and you’re more likely to come across miniature sculptures among the wads. The Seattle wall is right outside the Market Theater, and got its start when gum-smacking customers, bored from waiting in line for the theater, would stick their leftovers on the wall. This probably means that the theater’s seats are amazingly gum-free!
Since the Obispo “wall” spreads across an entire alley, the gum isn’t as thick. You’re also more likely to see fraternity and sorority letters, along with Cal Poly freshmen sneaking by to make their first mark on the city. The tradition apparently dates back to high-school rivalries in the 1950s, and was taken up by local bar patrons looking to take a leak. These days, some store owners still hose the alley down whenever it gets too ripe.
Today, even professional artists are moved to contribute. Matthew Hoffman created an enormous, gummy self-portrait on the California wall, and claims that the crowd-sourced art instills a sense of community pride. And now that they’re safe from cleanup efforts, both walls are growing ever-thicker with each passing pedestrian.
Our Seattle Gum Wall t-shirt owes its inspiration to the thousands of tourists and college students whose gum has helped to create the sticky and colorful spectacle that is the Seattle Gum Wall.