WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — It was 50 years ago Tuesday when Drs. Robert K. Davis and H. Collier Wright established a practice that was visionary for the time.
The new offices they would build on Adams Road would house not just the two internists, but four more physician specialists — a surgeon and pediatrician would be the first to join them.
It was a visionary concept that proved to be a winning one, said Dr. Robert Jandl, now president of the practice they began.
"It's moved from two to four to what it is today," said Helen Davis, Robert Davis' widow, who saw the plans for the Williamstown Medical Associates offices laid out on her kitchen table and who sewed the curtains for its windows so many years ago. "It was truly democratic. They all shared."
Designed by architect Chester E. Nagel, who studied under famed modernist Walter Gropius, the original building cost $50,000.
That building will soon be gone, but the practice her husband established will live on in a $2 million, state-of-the-art structure already being constructed a stone's throw from its predecessor.
Six gold shovels were used to ceremonially flip six chunks of wet sod to the cheers of friends, family and workers clustered under a white tent on Tuesday. The rainy day ritual was to mark the practice's golden anniversary and its future under brighter skies.
"It was, in its original creation, a lovely creation with an inner and outer courtyard," said Dr. Erwin K. Stuebner, who retired last year after 31 years with WMA. "It has seen so many patient visits, they number well into the millions, and it has seen numerable medical successes and, because we are human, it has also seen its share of tragedies as well."
The old building has been added onto several times, the lovely courtyard taken for office space and the "ill-conceived flat roof" leaked many times, he said.
The practice now employs more than 100 people, including 29 full- and part-time physicians and has seen over 100,000 patients. The practice also has offices on the North Adams Regional Hospital campus.
The new building, far smaller but more efficient, is designed with the needs of modern medicine in mind. "We have pictures of the original building," said Executive Director William White. "It was really was state of the art at the time."
The new long, single-story building designed by BBL Medical Facilities of Albany, N.Y., will take into account the possibility of expansion, something the older one didn't.
"We positioned the building so in the future, there's enough land there to double the size of the building," said White, plus — no flat roof.
"Just as the time comes for every physician to retire, it is it time for this building to retire and make way for our new facility," said Stuebner. "So I say, job well done to our old building and welcome to our exciting new facility. May its longevity equal or surpass the 50 years of its predecessor."
Town Manager Peter Fohlin remarked on the changes he had seen in medicine over his lifetime and thanked the practice (a tax-paying entity he pointed out) both for its quality of care and its loyalty.
"I want to thank Williamstown Medical Associates Associates for staying in town, showing this commitment to the community," he said.
For Jandl, the new building is a symbol of the practice's dedication during a time when "health care in the U.S. is fragmented, expensive and low quality."
"There is little societal commitment to provide health-care services to all citizens and we continue to suffer from an environment of profitmaking at the expense of humane, inclusive and effective health care policy," he said.
While Massachusetts is grappling with the problem, continued Jandl, "many now are coming back to the notion that groups of primary-care physicians and specialists under one roof is the best way to provide well-managed, cost-conscious and high-quality health care."
"This new building is far more than bricks and mortar, far more than an efficient and attractive office space," he said. "This new building is a dramatic statement by the physicians of Williamstown Medical Associates of our commitment to the North Berkshire communities and our vision of not just surviving today's turmoil but of doing all we can to improve health care.
"We are fulfilling the best we can the vision of our founders 50 years ago."