The massive bulldozer tapped the front wall of the Plaza Theatre in East Patchogue, leaving a small dent and disappointing a crowd gathered to see the long-abandoned building fall.
But soon, the bulldozer took a mighty swing and gouged out a big chunk of wall, triggering cheers from the audience of more than 100 onlookers.
"More!" shouted one spectator, and pieces of the facade rained onto the ground.
"This is a great day for East Patchogue and the Town of Brookhaven," said Tim Mazzei, a Brookhaven councilman who has spent years trying to revamp the once-popular Plaza Theatre at East Main Street and Grove Avenue and revitalize East Patchogue's depressed downtown.
"We've been looking at it empty for 25 years, and it gets worse and worse," said resident David Dayton, who stood with his wife, Phyllis, across the street from the Plaza with camera in hand. "We're glad to see it go."
The theater, opened in 1962, has been dormant for 25 years and become an eyesore.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy, who grew up in nearby Holbrook, said in a ceremony before the demolition that the last movie he saw at the theater was "E.T.," shortly before the building closed in 1986. "It's been rotting ever since," he said.
Marita Morello, president of civic group FOCUS East Patchogue, carried a sledgehammer, and Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri described her as "the real sledgehammer" for her work to rejuvenate the area. "I can't believe that my day is actually happening," Morello said.
Officials hope the destruction of the Plaza sparks the rebirth of the area.
"This is exactly what we're talking about when we talk about blight to light," said Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko, referring to his administration's plans to rejuvenate depressed communities. "This theater was a monument to suburban blight."
Now the community can move forward in planning the future, he said.
In 2006, Suffolk County began efforts to take over the property after Edmondo Schwartz, the Manhattan-based owner, refused to update or sell the site. Brookhaven acquired the site through eminent domain in 2009, after Schwartz rejected the town's $1.19-million purchase offer. The county lent Brookhaven $350,000 this year toward the $725,000 cost of demolition. Bover Industries of East Setauket won the town's demolition contract and wielded the wrecking ball Tuesday.
The town plans to sell the property for development, and officials said Schwartz will be compensated for the building, possibly after a judge sets a fair value for the property.
Schwartz could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Residents said they would like a grocery store there, or even another movie theater -- as resident Andrea Boerner put it, "a place where families can go."