If you are squeamish and easily disgusted, never walk along Bubblegum Alley and don’t touch the walls because lining the walls on this alley is a thick layer of over-chewed sticky bubble gums. This local tourist landmark is located in downtown San Luis Obispo, California. The wall in question is 15-foot high and stretches for 70-foot along the alley.
According to the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Business Improvement Association, the history of who actually started this gum fiesta is a little sketchy. Some historians believe that the tradition of the Alley started after WWII as a San Luis Obispo High School graduating class event. Others believe it to have started in the late 1950s as rivalry between San Luis Obispo High School and Cal Poly students. As soon as the Poly students suspected that the high school was trying to out-do them on the gum walls, the college students stepped up their game and immediately became more creative, thus launching Bubblegum Alley. In any case, by the 1970s Bubblegum Alley was well under way. When shop owners complained that it was “unsanitary and disgusting”, the alley underwent a full cleaning. The gum graffiti survived two full cleanings in the ’70s, but when, in 1996, the BIA attempted to have another full cleaning, it was not passed.
The wall is not a random collection of gooey gums, some people in San Luis Obispo consider the wall a form of art. One can see an array of shapes, words and designs – there are faces and flowers, fraternity and sorority letters, and “I love SLO” spelled out in different colors and sizes. A closer glance at the gum-infested wall will expose an abundance of objects, such as pennies and dimes, sticking out of the wall as eyes for gum faces. There are gum wrappers placed strategically to add to the designs, and occasionally someone will hang a condom from the wall in hopes to disgust passers-by, but mostly the alley is appropriate for all ages and encourages everyone’s creative contributions.