If all goes according to plan, demolition will start early today at a former restaurant in the heart of Yakima where a new McDonald’s will be built.

While the merits of locating a fast food establishment in the core of the city has ignited sometimes fierce debate in recent months, change is nothing new for the site at the northwest corner of Yakima Avenue and First Street.

Over the course of 13 decades, the neighborhood evolved to include everything from thriving gambling halls and opium dens to some of the region’s finest hotels and some of its seediest bars.

The new McDonald’s will simply take its place in a long history of the intersection, which most residents consider the city’s hub.

Since the 1970s, the site has been occupied by a series of restaurants, the longest lasting of which was JB’s Big Boy, remembered for its gleaming plastic statue of a rotund boy holding up a hamburger.

But for much of the last century the site was home to the Hotel Washington, a grand four-story brick building with store fronts at street level and a series of arched windows above. The surrounding area hosted an eclectic mix of businesses, including banks and billiard rooms.

“One hundred years ago that would have been one of the hubs of the community,” local historian Paul Schafer said. “It would be an exciting time to be there.”

Built in the 1910s, the hotel hosted a number of retail establishments over the years.

In the 1920s, there was Red Front Clothing, which sold men’s fashions and furnishings. In the 1930s, taxi stands ran out front of the hotel and the Green Lantern Barber and Beauty Shop operated on the first floor.

In the 1950s, a barber school resided at the address. In the 1970s and 1980s, the area was home to a tavern district — more than a dozen bars and cocktail lounges that shared a rough reputation. Many were demolished in the early 1990s as part of the city’s efforts to clean up and revitalize the downtown.

The last year the Hotel Washington appears in city records is 1971. The old building was then demolished and a far smaller building was constructed in its footprint. Its first occupant, JB’s Big Boy, opened its doors in 1976 and operated for more than 20 years.

Afterward, turnover at the site became more rapid. Oriental Garden Restaurant took over in 2001, but by 2006 was replaced by Los Mariachis Restaurant. In 2008, the Grand Buffet took over, the last restaurant to occupy the building now slated for demolition.

“It’s an eyesore and it should go down,” said Schafer. “The unfortunate thing is the (Hotel Washington) was torn down some time ago. I bemoan the loss of the old buildings and their stories that have gone down with them.”

Property owner Patti Schneider said Wednesday she expects demolition work to start about 6:30 a.m. today. But she notes much of today’s work will be preliminary and that the actual teardown won’t happen until Friday or Monday.

She expects the demolition process to be completed in about a week. Work on the next phase of the site rebuild is expected to start soon afterward.

• Reporter Mai Hoang contributed to this report.