Editorials

Should SLO’s Bubble Gum Alley go the way of Seattle’s Gum Wall?

San Luis Obispo tourists take photos of themselves in Bubble Gum Alley. Carie Mahlun, of Clovis, takes photos of daughters Mattie, age 18 and Jaycee Mahlun, age 10. Logan McQuay, and Remi Mahlum, age 15 all visiting from Clovis.
San Luis Obispo tourists take photos of themselves in Bubble Gum Alley. Carie Mahlun, of Clovis, takes photos of daughters Mattie, age 18 and Jaycee Mahlun, age 10. Logan McQuay, and Remi Mahlum, age 15 all visiting from Clovis. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

Now that Seattle’s famous Gum Wall is coming down (the gum, not the wall), that leads us to wonder: Does Seattle know something we don’t? Is it time for San Luis Obispo to reassess whether our own Bubble Gum Alley is a treasure or a turnoff?

As of now, there are no plans to make any changes to Bubble Gum Alley. But should there be? Have we outgrown our gum wall?

“It’s a sticky wicket,” said San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx, who shares what appears to be a prevailing view among longtime locals.

From a personal standpoint, she is no fan of the alley — “the thought of the germ content is really kind of scary,” she said. But she acknowledges that it’s a popular tourist attraction.

With the demise of Seattle’s Gum Wall, Bubble Gum Alley is drawing even more attention; several publications have pointed out that San Luis Obispo still has its gum wall. The Los Angeles Times even urged readers to “go to Bubble Gum Alley in San Luis Obispo for a chewing gum art fix,” until Seattle’s Gum Wall is re-established.

That’s right; the disappearance of Seattle’s Gum Wall is expected to be temporary; officials have no plans to ban gum art after the walls are washed clean.

So why bother cleaning it at all?

Rats, for one. The gum attracts them. Yep, that’s revolting, creepy, disgusting and all sorts of other unsavory adjectives. Fortunately, we don’t appear to have that problem in San Luis Obispo. There are rats, but they don’t hang out in Bubble Gum Alley.

Seattle authorities also are worried that gum may be harming the brick wall.

“Gum is made of chemicals, sugar, additives. Things that aren’t good for us. I can’t imagine it’s good for brick,” a spokesperson for the Pikes Place Market Preservation & Development told the Seattle Times.

Also, gum art has crept beyond the original canvas, located outside the Unexpected Productions’ Market Theatre at Pike Place Market, to cover an ever-growing amount of wall space. By starting with a clean slate, Seattle officials hope to be able to confine it to a smaller area. (Good luck with that.)

Oddly, no one associated with the cleanup of Seattle’s wall mentions anything about public health. And while plenty of visitors to gum walls — both in San Luis Obispo and Seattle — have been put off by the germs, saliva, odors, etc., we’ve never heard any warnings from the medical community.

That hasn’t stopped critics from weighing in over the years. One Tribune reader called Bubble Gum Alley a “claim to shame.” Another was upset every time he saw an article about the alley.

“Why is it that people think Bubble Gum Alley is something that we want San Luis Obispo to be noted for?” he wrote.

Yet, for generations of San Luis Obispo locals, contributing a piece of “art” to Bubble Gum Alley has been — maybe not a rite of passage — but a way to leave a little mark on their hometown.

Yucky it may be, but as long as the rats stay away and the bricks remain intact, we say leave Bubble Gum Alley in peace.

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