The vacant Island Squire restaurant was torn down Tuesday while Middle Island residents sipped champagne and the children of its former owner reminisced about better times at the venue.
The former dinner theater -- which had been empty since the final curtain fell about 20 years ago -- was demolished after Brookhaven Town officials deemed it unsafe and structurally unsound.
Laurie Wilgenkamp and her brother, Steve, the daughter and son of former owner John Wilgenkamp, joined about two dozen residents who watched the dilapidated structure crumple into a pile of bricks, wood and concrete blocks.
"It's definitely emotional to see it come down," Laurie Wilgenkamp, 43, of Mastic Beach, said. She recalled washing dishes there for $20 a night.
"It's my second family," she said. "This was the place to be, besides going to the city or Westbury Music Fair."
"It's time," Steve Wilgenkamp, 50, of Islip, said. "It's time to get rid of the eyesore."
The Island Squire once was beloved by the community for its New Year's Eve parties and shows such as "Fiddler on the Roof," often starring John Wilgenkamp, who performed under the stage name John Wyle. He lives in New Jersey.
But as it deteriorated, the restaurant, on a busy stretch of Middle Country Road, became the object of ire among Middle Island residents, who demanded it be torn down.
Residents shared champagne and served refreshments as Brookhaven workers demolished the crumbling edifice. Town officials and civic leaders used a sledgehammer painted gold to ceremoniously raze the building. "I'm a Middle Island resident, and it's time to tear this thing down," Councilwoman Connie Kepert said.
Town officials said they had found signs that the graffiti-covered building had been used as a drug den, and inspectors said the roof had partially collapsed. A family of raccoons was removed shortly before demolition began.
Records show the property is owned by Walmart Real Estate of Bentonville, Arkansas. Walmart officials said they sold the site in 2003 to CJ Development of Centereach. Attempts to reach CJ Development were unsuccessful. Town officials said CJ Development will be required to pay for the demolition.
It's unclear what will become of the site.
"This is a long time coming," Middle Island Civic Association president Gail Lynch-Bailey said. "It's well past time to build something new."