North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey donned a hard hat and crawled into the cab of a trackhoe Tuesday to knock down a piece of the city's history.

Clawing into the mostly abandoned former Shipwatch Square shopping center at Rivers and McMillan avenues, Summey ripped the brick facade off a section of what was once a Western Auto years ago before tearing through a metal and glass bay door.

The old shopping center, billed as the largest in the state when it opened on 18 acres in September 1959, fell out of favor when indoor shopping malls opened in the 1970s and 1980s and then was practically left vacant after the nearby Navy base closed in 1996.

The city bought the property in 2010 to transform it into a retail zone and housing for people with assisted-living needs, seniors and people with Alzheimer's disease.

The mayor called the U-shaped shopping center's demolition that will take place over the next four months a new beginning for the city's blighted southern end, which has been without a full-service grocery store since Winn-Dixie left the shopping center in September 2005.

"Our goal is to make it a viable asset to the community where people want to shop," Summey said after idling the trackhoe. "Folks in this area deserve a good place to shop."

Walgreens has committed to build a pharmacy store on the corner of Rivers and McMillan avenues where an abandoned Wachovia Bank stands.

A bank is under contract for the Rivers Avenue side of the old Winn-Dixie building where a Chinese restaurant once stood, and Summey said the city is in discussions with two grocery chains to anchor the redevelopment project, though none has committed yet.

"It can be a center point of redevelopment in this area," Summey said.

Read more in Wednesday's editions of The Post and Courier.