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The equal of any other seaside resort

Zoo World  at Seaburn.
Zoo World at Seaburn.
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Watch out for our latest Retro page in the Sunderland Echo this weekend. As always, we’ll be concentrating on one year in history and this time, its may 1989.

But we’ve decided to highlight one particular story from this times to give you a flavour of Sunderland 29 years ago.

Seaburn Ocean Park in 1978.

Seaburn Ocean Park in 1978.

it was a time when a seafront attraction was taking on a very new look.

There were changes aplenty at Seaburn’s Ocean Park where, in 1989, a modern leisure complex was taking shape complete with leisure centre, amusement park, 42,000 sq ft superstore, housing development, pub and motel.

The Puffin Billy pub, restaurant and motel had just been completed and was unveiled on a railway theme with 32 bedrooms.

But that wasn’t all. There were parks, picnic areas and play areas as well as car park spaces for 385 cars.

A modern leisure complex which will see Seaburn enter the 1990s with facilities on a par with any other seaside resort

Sunderland Echo reporter, 1989

And inside the gleaming new leisure centre, visitors could enjoy a large multi-purpose hall, cafeteria, function room and seafront terrace.

It was all a big change from what had gone before.

Eighteen months earlier, developers began replacing the kiosks selling candy floss, the boating pool, golf range and amusement arcade. In other words, it was all change at Ocean Park.

A Sunderland Echo report in 1989 said the new facility was “a modern leisure complex which will see Seaburn enter the 1990s with facilities on a par with any other seaside resort.”

Seaburn fairground.

Seaburn fairground.

Seaburn was being updated but let’s not forget what had gone before - and the fact that this wasn’t the first time that Seaburn had been given a new look.

Ocean Park was also known as being the site of the former Seaburn Hall – a place where Cats Night Out was held every Wednesday, the dance floor was top-class and top bands would regularly appear.

Acts such as the Pretty Things, The Searchers, were among those to grace the venue.

Seaburn was also known for having Ocean Park and Zooworld. In fact, the first zoo was around from the 1940s.

Initially, it formed part of a visiting circus, but by 1950 a miniature version was a permanent attraction. There were lions, a baby bear and lots more.

By the 1950s Seaburn had taken over from Roker as Sunderland’s leading seaside resort.

Development of the area brought huge crowds to the seafront. They were attracted there by the fairground, boating lake, pitch and putt course, skating rink and the miniature railway.

By the mid 1950s, there was the thrill of the Big Dipper ride as well as nine colourful kiosks selling sweets, drinks, ice cream, candy floss and shellfish.

More change came in the 1970s when a £500,000 new attraction took over. In came a dolphinarium, playground and ski slope although other planned facilities, such as a monorail, never made it beyond the drawing board.

In its place, however, a new zoo sprang up and this time it had all sorts of new attractions such as lions, monkeys, a brown bear, Coypu Rats.

In 1975, the site boasted five new arrivals at Seaburn Ocean Park which included four pumas that were born at the park, and a chimpanzee which arrived from Scarborough Zoo.

The pumas’ mother, Tara, had been at the park for the past two years and this was her first litter. Children were being asked to name the new arrivals. Anyone remember what they were called? Email chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk with your memories. Fibber the chimp was the first the park had.

In more recent years, there has been regeneration, improvement and repair works all along the seafront, as reported in the Sunderland Echo in 2014.

Infrastructure works were carried out to improve the area for visitors and existing businesses, and to help pave the way for the comprehensive redevelopment of Seaburn Ocean Park.

And as we reported in 2017, the changing face of Seaburn continued with the closure of the Seaburn Leisure Centre and the removal of the Pullman Lodge railway carriage.

In other words, it’s a seafront venue where the changes have been aplenty – but always with the aim of being the best it could for the public.

We would love to hear your memories of a trip to Seaburn in bygone days.

Send us your memories by emailing chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk.