Widely touted as one of the germiest tourist attractions in the world, the Market Theater Gum Wall in Pike Place Market may be forced to temporarily relinquish its title when it undergoes a heavy duty scrub next week.
The theater's dazzling yet disgusting spectacle started its journey in 1993 when theater patrons waiting for shows began tacking their used gum to the wall. After repeated attempts over several years by staff to remove the gum, they eventually gave up and allowed the gum wall to grow to immense proportions. Fast-forward 20 years, and the Market Theater Gum Wall is now an essential part of any Seattle visitor's to-do list.
Of course, all good things in life need regular maintenance and tune-ups, and the gum wall is no exception. To ensure the continued structural integrity of the building's brick facade, the Pike Place Market Preservation and Develop Authority (PDA) is planning to remove all the accumulated gum and give the building a brief breather.
After all, gum isn't jut sticky — it's sugary! As any dentist will tell you, prolonged exposure to sugar can wreak havoc on your pearly whites, and the same principal applies to brick.
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To announce the impending cleaning, the Gum Wall even took to Facebook to explain the decision: "Just like you, all that sugar can really mess up the surface of your bricks, er, teeth. I have to admit, after 20 years, I’m feeling a little icky, sticky and in desperate need of a good scrubbing to make me sparkle again."
The wall already gets regular steam cleanings to cut down on its germiness, but to remove all the gum, they're going to have to bring out the big guns — an industrial steam machine — and literally melt it off. That's why the PDA has hired some professionals for the job.
"This is probably the weirdest job we’ve done," said Kelly Foster, the general manager of Cascadian Building Maintenance, the company that's taking on the unique task. The heavy-duty cleaning operation, which is scheduled to began at 8 a.m. on Nov. 10, is expected to take several days due to the sheer volume of gum.
So what will happen to all the gum after its melted off?
"At the end of the cleaning, the gum will be stringy and wet from steam cleaning," Linda Crawford, a spokesperson for the PDA, tells MNN. "We’re going to weigh the end mass out of curiosity of how much tonnage the gum will weigh. Afterwards, the gum will be disposed of by the company we’ve hired to do the cleaning."
Despite the wall's ick factor, it's kind of sad to think of this beloved Seattle mainstay being removed, but Crawford is quick to assuage those concerns.
"We expect the Gum Wall will live on — it’s a Seattle tradition and a crowd-sourced piece of public art that people really enjoy," Crawford said. "But it’s time to start with a clean canvas."
Staff and performers for
Unexpected Productions, the theater troupe that occupies the Market
Theater, echoes that sentiment.
"The wall is like the art that takes place behind it, constantly changing from the sharing of its participants," said Kent Whipple, marketing and development director of Unexpected Productions. "And, like a good improv story, has a beginning, middle and end. The wall is ready to start a new story. We are excited to see the new incarnation."
Hoping to stick one last piece of gum to this disgusting national treasure? Before the gunky wall gets the high-pressure hose, visitors are encouraged to make one final pre-cleaning visit and participate in the Gum Wall Snap! contest.
From now through Nov. 9, if you snap a photo with the gum wall and post it on the contest's Facebook page, you'll be entered into the contest for a two passes to an Unexpected Productions show as well as the opportunity to engrave your name on a special steel "Market Charm" planned for Pike's upcoming MarketFront renovation.