Demolition began Monday on a defunct Lake Ronkonkoma restaurant and catering facility that has been an eyesore scarred by graffiti for years, but residents remembering the Bavarian Inn in better times said the teardown was bittersweet.
"My kids had their sixth-grade graduation dances here, and one of my nieces had her wedding here," said Dorothy Roman, 68, who has lived in Ronkonkoma more than 40 years. "Some of the waitresses . . . and the waiters, all dressed in their German outfits with the lederhosen. The kids used to have a blast coming here, and we did, too."
Peter Bodnar, 81, of Selden, who served as chef at the restaurant from 1968 to 1974, said it was "shameful" that the building had to be razed. "It's very painful to talk about it," he said. "I'm going to remember it for the rest of my life."
Suffolk County officials estimate that the $325,000 asbestos removal and demolition of the building at 422 Smithtown Blvd. -- closed for more than six years due to flooding -- will be completed in two weeks.
An excavator claw removed a small portion of the exterior, dirt and brush Monday. "These guys will have to be very careful. The flooring is soft from the water damage," said Suffolk County Department of Public Works Commissioner Gilbert Anderson, describing an interior hallway as "mushy."
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said at a news conference that the demolition was "about removing a blight on the community and about public safety."
"It represents rebirth -- a place that has enjoyed a rich history but is now undergoing a rebirth into something else," Bellone said.
Suffolk County took ownership of the property on June 19, 2012, due to tax default, county spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said. Since then, the county has paid $348,630.54 in taxes associated with the property, she said.
The future use of the property remains undetermined, but residents and Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) have advocated for it to become a park.
Advocates say that its location -- bordered by Lily Pond Park and Walter S. Commerdinger's historic home to the north, Lake Ronkonkoma to the south and Lake Ronkonkoma County Park to the north and west -- make it ideal for that use.
Kennedy said he hoped that the site would once again become a destination. "People had many, many memories here that they enjoyed, and we want to bring that back again," he said.
Both Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio and Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine also said they looked forward to the site's becoming a park.
"We will build, hopefully ... a park here that we can all enjoy so that this beauty of a lake is available to all of us countywide to come and enjoy," said Romaine.
In the coming weeks, Smithtown, Brookhaven and Islip town leaders plan to sign a "memorandum of understanding" with Suffolk County to allow for regional management and secure environmental protections for Lake Ronkonkoma, said Kennedy.
Officials plan to meet with local civic groups to decide the future of the property. Suffolk County has previously said that the park proposal could be too costly and the county would look at solutions "in the best interest of all Suffolk County taxpayers."
Bellone Monday pledged to work with the various levels of government to plan the next steps.
Fred Gorman, chairman of the Nesconset-Sachem Civic Association, said he was glad to see the building come down.
While doing a cleanup of the site several years ago, civic members found heroin bags and hypodermic needles, he said.
Gorman said the site should become a park, adding, "What's more peaceful than sitting down and looking at a large body of water surround you?"