A British landmark visited by everyone from David Beckham to Winston Churchill to Brad Pitt has been given its death note. The Walthamstow Stadium will be closing after over seventy-five years as a archetypal greyhound park.
The track, well know for its pink and green sign, is closing after the owners agreed to sell to developers. Changing factors in the gambling industry, animal rights concerns, and the rising property values in the face of the London 2012 Olympics have all contributed to the issues plaguing the park.
The park is not alone in its struggle to stay open, nor in its eventual demise. At one time in London there were thirty dog parks, now there are only three. Some surmise life is just passing the greyhound races by, others say the sport will never die. Either way its clearly too late for at least this park.
Walthamstow was opened in 1933 by a bookmaker named William Chandler. At one point it was like a crown jewel in the greyhound racing world’s crown, well known for its art-deco facade. It was also featured on a rock band’s album art, further lending it renown far and wide.
The British Greyhound Racing Board estimates about three million people still attend races, compared to almost fifty million in the 1940’s. Back then there were over one hundred greyhound parks in England then, compared to only thirty now. After this latest closure only Wimbledon, Crayford and Romford remain.
In what can only be called an ironic twist business has been booming as of late, partially due to the track’s impending closure. While the average middle-aged attendants, it has also been drawing in more families and young smart dressed business people. Many dine on chicken and chips, the track’s signature dish, while watching races that last about thirty seconds as a greyhound chases a mechanical rabbit around the track.
Unfortunately it comes too late for the track, which lost almost half a million pounds last year. Changes such as new tax laws, off hours betting shops and internet gambling have all taken a toll on revenue. The stadium’s location in an area undergoing major redevelopment for the 2012 Olympics has made the land incredibly valuable as of late.
There are also concerns about animal rights. Animal activists were happy to hear of the track’s closing, but the dog owner’s association says many of the five hundred or so dogs at the track currently will move on to other tracks with the smaller remainder finding homes for a comfortable retirement.
A group called Save Our Stow has been trying to raise money to save the track. They are backed by businesspeople and plan to march through town but the current owners say its already a done deal to sell to developers. The good news is that although much of the structure will be destroyed, the famous facade is protected by the government heritage rulesand thus will be preserved.