While alleys may be notorious for being unsanitary, none can compare to the amount of DNA, saliva and mouth bacteria found within Bubblegum Alley.
Located in San Luis Obispo, California, the 15-foot high, 70-foot long alleyway is almost completely covered in chewed gum. Simultaneously disgusting and fascinating, estimations say there are well over 2 million pieces of chewed gum on these walls.
The exact origin of the sticky, multicolored walls is unknown. Some believe that graduating seniors from San Luis Obispo High School took a trip to the alleyway and started the tradition.
Others say that the school had a rivalry with nearby California Polytechnic State University students which sparked the idea. Allegedly, once one school started sticking their gum onto the wall, the other had to one-up them by sticking on more gum, in more creative ways.
The true start may never be known, however by 1970 Bubblegum Alley was up and running in full force. It soon made headlines and was featured on many local and national news stations, but not everyone was happy about it.
Nearby shop owners were turned off by the obvious unsanitary practices, and complained that the chewed gum was disgusting. Two deep cleanings were made in the 1970’s and a third in 1996, but Bubblegum Alley has survived and still stands strong.
Now attracting thousands of tourists every year, the organic growth of the gum murals is unstoppable. With over 160 million people in the United States chewing gum last year alone, it is easy to see why the accessibility and ease has led to its popularity.
Competition, challenge and creativity may have been the origins of the alley, and still exist today.
Professional artists including Matthew Hoffman and Arroyo Grande have contributed, adding some beautiful renditions made of gum. Oh, and some… Pretty horrifying ones as well.
Books and songs have referenced Bubblegum Alley, it has attracted the likes of Ripley’s Believe it or Not, and often features notes of political activism and pop culture. An undeniably great spot for a selfie, the increase in foot traffic for the surrounding area has counteracted the complaints by nearby shop owners. One shop has even been smart enough to set up a gumball machine right outside the alley.
If you’re looking to contribute to a gigantic art piece, happen to be walking by while chewing a piece of gum that has lost its flavor, and aren’t afraid of some germs, why not add your piece to the ever-growing attraction?