Charles Theil is in the business of hauling buildings away.

This week the 49-year-old truck driver is hauling what remains of the 40 buildings that used to stand where the District of Columbia plans to build a downtown convention center. The broken timber, crushed brick and twisted metal beams are going to landfill sites in Beltsville and Lorton.

"This used to be a hot spot back 30 years ago," said Theil. "I'd come here to go to the movies and to party back then."

The old hot spot is now a sea of rubble, broken only by a few remaining buildings. If the city has its way, all the buildings will eventually be leveled. The major now plans to break ground for the $99 million convention center in the third week of April.

Three historic buildings and one lawsuit are all that remain to block the center.

The 73-year-old Elks Club, complete with its stone elks heads and antlers, still stands at 919 H St. NW, on the edge of the center site, bounded by Ninth, 11th and H streets NW and New York Avenue. The building's fate awaits a city decision on whether it can be demolished under the city's historic preservation law. A decision will be made by April 29, a week after the ground-breaking is scheduled.

Two other buildings -- the Mount Veron Theatre, a turn-of-the-century nickelodeon at 918 Ninth St. NW, and theAmerican Mosaic Company building, dating from 1865, at 912 I St. -- are bing considered for designation as historic sites. If they get it, further hearings would have to be held to determine whether they can be demolished.

Still pending before the D.C. Court of Appeals is a lawsuit brought by the Convention Center Refrendum Committee to force the District government to hold a referendum on whether the center should be built. The suit, filed last November, was rejected by the D.C. Superior Court.

"This has been a good day," Theil says, as he checks a load of I-beams and then switches his hard hat for a baseball cap. "I made five runs. We'll be finished in no time."