The battle for control of Anna Beck's tiny yellow house at 923 Washington St. moved into another arena Wednesday when Robert J. Kresse, one of Buffalo's most ardent preservationists, challenged an order handed down by Erie County Surrogate Joseph S. Mattina.
For the second time, Mattina ordered the house demolished, as Miss Beck directed in her will.
Kresse, an attorney, argued that it must stand until the Preservation Board decides whether it is a local historic landmark.
"It is my humble opinion," Kresse said, "that the surrogate was out of the loop in deciding whether a potential landmark will be demolished.
"It is also my opinion that the City of Buffalo can totally ignore the surrogate's order to issue a demolition permit."
Kresse, who also is a trustee of the Wendt Foundation, has played a lead role in preserving Frank Lloyd Wright's Martin House, St. Mary of the Sorrows Church and the Roycroft Inn.
He is the attorney for James Brem, who is seeking preservation status for the Beck house so he can buy it and live in it.
Brem is an intern for Fillmore Council Member David A. Franczyk, who was successful July 21 in having the Common Council approve a delay on a demolition permit.
Miss Beck, who died in the little house Jan. 4 at age 97, considered the house a family shrine. Built by her grandfather just after the Civil War, it was moved from Ralph Street to Washington Street in the 1970s after a court fight with the city, which wanted it torn down to make way for the Oak Street urban renewal project.
At the time, it was agreed that after Miss Beck and her sister died, the house would be demolished and the city would have the option to buy the lot for $100.
Miss Beck was specific in her will about the demolition and left the bulk of her $150,000 estate to St. Louis Catholic Church on Main Street.
The city's Urban Renewal Agency lost its effort to stop demolition when Mattina, on July 2, refused to overrule the will.
The city lost Wednesday when Mary Kennedy Martin, executor for Miss Beck's estate, challenged the Common Council's order to delay the demolition permit.
"The bleeding must be stopped," Mattina said. "There was a contractual agreement between Miss Beck and the city, and now they are trying to change the game rules."
Mattina also observed that both the Council action and the request for preservation status were made after his initial ruling.
"There is a charity (St. Louis Church) involved," Mattina said, "and landmark study could drag on for months or a year or more. Meantime, you are draining the estate and denying the charity the benefits Anna wanted it to have."
If the city wishes to stay his order, Mattina said, it can go to the Appellate Division.
Kresse insists that isn't necessary.
"It's up to the city's Preservation Board to decide whether it is a landmark or a potential landmark, and I will be pursuing this path," he promised.
Meanwhile, there was no comment from Buffalo Community Development Commissioner Joseph Ryan, who must decide whether to issue a demolition permit.