The purple dust of twilight has stolen, for the final time, across the Stardust lounge, where big-name music groups long ago entertained revelers drawn to Charles County's gambling-fueled nightlife scene.

A crew from Union Dismantling and Salvage Inc., of Upper Marlboro, has begun taking down the Stardust, about two miles south of the county's northern border on U.S. Route 301. The process should take several weeks.

The Stardust was among the venues, many of them now disappeared, that prospered between the late 1940s and 1968, when Charles County and the rest of Southern Maryland had the only legal slot machines east of Las Vegas.

In recent years other icons of that gambling era have given way to the retail trade that now dominates Waldorf, with the Martha Washington Motel and the Heidelberg Motel among those disappearing.

The Stardust now joins their ranks. In the 1950s it drew big-name acts, including the Tommy Dorsey band, said Rick Hamilton, a Waldorf real estate agent who arranged for the demolition at the behest of the building's owners.

After state lawmakers outlawed slot machines, the Stardust closed and fell into disrepair. Last fall, county commissioners, calling the Stardust an eyesore, voted to make it easier for county officials to order a building to be razed.

Those powers were not necessary in this case. The owners agreed to pull the old building down, Hamilton said. He said they hope to sell the 102-acre property, which includes 43 acres of commercially zoned land.

The Stardust motel building, which now serves as subsidized housing, will remain unaffected by the current demolition, Hamilton said.

CAPTION: A demolition worker tears down the old Stardust lounge to make way for an eventual sale of the 102-acre property on Route 301.