The zoo’s popularity waned during the 1970s and started to incur financial losses. In 1977, the owners, Chipperfields, proposed to keep the quarantine facility and the aviary but to turn the rest of the site into a skateboard centre. Skateboarding was just starting as a new craze at the time.
The proposal was agreed by the Council’s Leisure Services Committee on 4th November 1977, followed by outline planning permission on 20th December. It was planned to be the largest and best skate park in Europe with a long run and a slalom. There would also be a refreshments bar, club and shop facilities.
The zoo closed on 8th January 1978 and the skate park’s construction started while the animals were still being moved to other zoos and safari parks. The work was hampered by wet weather and the new skate park which cost £100,000 opened on 26th May 1978. Users were charged 60p for a morning or an afternoon session, which undoubtedly proved to be a major disincentive for many, especially for young people. For competitive skateboarders, however, the new runs made an exciting challenge. Mark ‘Trawler’ Lawer describes the setting on these Soundcloud links: https://soundcloud.com/fotonowcic/skatepark-birthday-tradition and https://soundcloud.com/fotonowcic/skatepark-aviary
A good number of skateboarders carried on going to the Hoe despite a ban which had been introduced following complaints about noise. Improvised courses on its wide sloping surfaces were free to use and there was said to be a ‘great atmosphere’ there. Others used their local streets while the Council investigated opening school playgrounds to reduce the risk of serious accidents.
By the end of July 1978, the skateboarding craze had begun to subside. The skate park’s manager, Charlie Harris, said it was getting about 100 people a day during the school holidays but much quieter at other times. A year later, the Plymouth Parks Manager, Don Waterhouse, described it as “an untidy mess.” However, the facility stayed open for nearly three years with subsidies from the Chipperfield organisation and revenue from the quarantine facility, which was now being used for imported cattle and sheep rather than exotic animals. In January 1981, the Council’s Leisure Services Committee agreed to the skate park’s lease being surrendered subject to the area being returned to open parkland.
Demolition of the concrete runs started in July 1981 and the area had been laid to grass by the end of the year.