Williams College plan to demolish former home of Dagmar Bubriski leaves some 'shocked, outraged'

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CAROLINE BONNIVIER SNYDER — THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE
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WILLIAMSTOWN — "She would have been horrified it ended this way."

That's how Charles Bonenti described how the late Dagmar Bubriski, his former colleague on the Williamstown Historical Commission, would react if she knew her 19th-century home at 42 Hoxsey St. may well be torn down at the behest of its present owner, Williams College — the very entity she had refused to sell the home to during her lifetime.

Dagmar's daughter, Wanda Bubriski, said she knows the college's interest in buying the property had gone on for more than 50 years.

But Wanda didn't expect the college would tear it down — even though her mother did.

"That's why she stayed in the house," Wanda said. "Because she knew if she moved, [the college] would demolish it."

Dagmar and her husband Stanley moved into the home in 1954.

After Stanley died in 1965, Dagmar raised four children in the home.

An informed crusader on civic issues, Dagmar was also a perennial face in the audience at selectmen's meetings and a frequent letter-writer to the North Adams Transcript regarding a wide range of Williamstown issues.

An advocate for historic preservation, Dagmar helped lead ultimately unsuccessful fights to preserve the Williamstown Opera House and various other properties owned by Williams College, according to her obituary in The Eagle.

Dagmar died in 2011.

Hemmed in by the college's Bronfman Science Center following the center's initial construction in the 1960s, Dagmar's own home motivated her historic preservation efforts.

The taller, 90,000-square-foot brick science center is set to be demolished this year to make room for an updated science complex. It looms over the yellow Victorian that Dagmar called home.

"This is just one more step in the institutionalization of the village center," said Bonenti.

The college's expansion also undermines the town's architectural diversity, he said.

Buildings that were homes like Dagmar's are being overshadowed by the college's new buildings — largely "institutional, bland, generic boxes," he said.

"Williamstown has become a series of construction sites for massive building," said Peter Bubriski, one of Wanda's three brothers, of the college's expansion efforts. "And I won't even go into the really sad state of their architectural choices."

For years, Hoxsey Street was a residential neighborhood filled with family homes like the one Peter grew up in, he recalled.

Now, it's been taken over for the college's needs, he said.

Besides the Bubriskis' former home, the college owns five other buildings on Hoxsey Street — two faculty-staff rentals, two student residences and one building that houses academic offices that will be converted into another faculty-staff rental, said Jim Kolesar, assistant to the president for community and government affairs at Williams College.

The college also owns and maintains more than 75 buildings in town that are at least 100 years old, Kolesar said.

"The college has torn down a number of structures," said Andrew Groff, community development director for Williamstown. "But I would not characterize them as being a poor steward" of historic buildings. The college has invested in historic rehabilitation of buildings, he said.

When Wanda sold the house to Williams College in 2017, the college told her it would be used for office space during construction and later for faculty housing, she said.

"I thought, 'Oh, great!'" she said. "''That is just wonderful.'"

She said she now believes the college was simply telling her that so she would sell.

Kolesar said the college intended to use the house for those purposes.

"The college looked forward to having that as a faculty-staff rental," he said. "[But] it really had to be vacated."

After efforts to move the home failed to pan out earlier this year, the college now plans to demolish the building.

In a letter sent March 12, Wanda, her brothers and about 97 other people signed a letter to the president and trustees of Williams College and the Williamstown Historical Commission urging the college to reconsider its decision to tear the building down.

"We are shocked, outraged and saddened to hear of the decision of Williams College to tear down the house at 42 Hoxsey Street," the letter states. "It was the home of Dagmar Bubriski, a community leader, columnist, a radio host and a widow at 37 who raised a family of four while being the loudest cheerleader and staunchest defender of Williamstown historic and cultural preservation. This history deserves to be preserved."

On April 12, the town's Historical Commission will take up the matter. The commission has the power to delay the demolition for up to a year. If the commission chooses not to delay, the demolition could go forward right away.

Removing the building will facilitate the construction of a new science center building — a core educational priority for the college, according to a Jan. 31 letter from the college's lawyer to William Barkin, chairman of the Williamstown Historical Commission. Removal will also allow the college to enhance the landscape along Hoxsey Street with more plantings and a geologic rain garden.

It will also enable the college to improve underground utility and stormwater management and relocate a small parking lot to a location that will be more sensitive to the college's neighbors, according to the letter.

"These decisions have to be made all the time," Kolesar said in an email. "Once all those [considerations] were weighed, the decision was, it needs to be removed."

Over the last four years, the college has moved two houses and a barn, facilitated the moving of a third house and has taken down four, Kolesar said.

The college listed the property as available throughout January and February, seeking parties interested in moving the building off the current lot, Kolesar said.

The building was free, with the interested party taking on the cost of moving the home.

The offer expired Feb. 28.

The college received about 17 expressions of interest, Kolesar said.

He recalled there was an entity that was "very serious" about the project, but ultimately backed out.

"In the end, they felt that they couldn't pull it off," he said.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@berkshireeagle.com, at @BE_pleboeuf on Twitter and 413-496-6247.


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