Michael Hamar

Paul Mayen: Fallingwater's Lesser-Known Architect

Filed By Michael Hamar | July 21, 2010 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living
Tags: anti-gay bigotry, Edgar J. Kaufman, Frank Lloyd Wright, gay relationships, Paul Mayen

Almost a year ago the boyfriend and I visited Fallingwater, one of Frank Lloyd Wright's most famous residential projects, while in southwestern Pennsylvania for the boyfriend's family reunion. As I noted in a post last August on my personal blog, one thing that isn't mentioned during the tour of the home is that Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., who inherited the house upon death of his parents, was gay.

The tour guides only note that "he never married." Thanks to a recent comment from a reader, I was provided with some information about "the rest of the story" as Paul Harvey used to say. It turns out that in many ways Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., did "marry" - or at least to the extent most of us in the American LGBT community still find ourselves "marrying" our life partners. Kaufmann met Paul Mayén (pictured above) in the early 1950's and the two spent their lives together thereafter until Kaufmann's death more than 30 years later in 1989. What's even crazier is that the visitor center/pavilion at Fallingwater (the cafe is shown in the photo after the jump) was designed by Kaufmann, Jr."s partner, Paul Mayén.

It is sad that in this day and age, false "family values" still continue to hide gay achievements and relationships. Here is some information that provides the rest of the story:

Frank Lloyd Wright may have designed Fallingwater in the 1930s, but it was Paul Mayén (5/1918-11/2000) who designed its gift shop. Both structures host over 130,000 architectural devotees and laymen every year. Both structures are internationally recognized for how seamlessly they blend into their environments. Both men were artists and architects and shared many of the same friends. But while Wright has achieved an almost-movie-star-like fame, Paul Mayén remains practically unknown...

In the early 1950s, he met a fellow art student, Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., with whom he would share his life until Edgar's death in 1989. Edgar's father was the founder of Kaufmann's department store in Pittsburgh; it was his father who commissioned Wright to build the now-famous vacation house for his friends and family near a waterfall in rural Pennsylvania. Wright, exceeding the original budget by almost a factor of ten, instead designed and built Fallingwater over the waterfall. In 1955, Edgar inherited the property and Paul and he visited the site together on mountain retreats until the property was entrusted to a conservation in 1963.

In 1956, the couple assisted I.N. and Bernadine Hagan in choosing the furniture for the Hagan's Frank Lloyd Wright house at the architect's suggestion. In 1959, Paul designed the jacket of a book about Wright, Drawings for a Living Architecture, which was edited by Giuseppe Samonà.

In 1975, he built a country house for them in Garrison, New York. From 1979 to 1981, he oversaw the building of the Fallingwater pavilion which houses a café, gift store, and visitor's center. When Edgar Jr. died, Paul scattered his ashes at Fallingwater. He died in 2000 and also had his ashes scattered there.

Sadly, even Edgar Kaufmann, Jr.'s obituary - while mentioning Mayén as Kaufmann's "longtime colleague and companion" - ends with the sentence, "There are no survivors."


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Know what? Thanks to posts like this, their memory lives on. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story.

Sean,

I'm glad you liked the post. Learning all of the details moved me. It made me also once again wonder when society will get over the homophobia and just accept LGBT people as just ordinary human beings and view our loves and relationships with respect.

Although I have not visited it (yet), I expect that Fallingwater might be the most beautiful "small" residence in America. (I say "small" because places such as San Simeon are on a totally different scale.)

And yes, it is infuriating that even today stories such as this are suppressed from the general public. Conservatives object, "I don't want my children hearing stories like that!" but actually that is their way to keep us invisible.

Thank you for researching and sharing this story. It's wonderful--poignant and somewhat sad to me. I have friends who have been a couple for almost 30 years. One is very ill and will die within a few months. I've been thinking that for the public it will be as though they were just casual friends...that is sad and a blight on American culture. No one can take away theif love or the joy they have had, and it would be so much better if our society could celebrate them rather than ignore or condemn.

Thanks for the story ! This is a rarely-reported aspect of Edgar-the-younger's life. The man's contribution to 20th Century design appreciation is considerable, and deserves wider recognition.

Little-known fact: Edgar jr. preferred an unusual spelling of his name -- with a lower-case J -- and consistently used it throughout his life.

William Weisberger | September 14, 2010 4:15 PM

Paul Mayen was also a furniture designer. He founded Habitat, Inc. in New York City where we purchased a floor and a table lamp in the 1970's. We never knew who designer was until we saw the table lamp listed in an auction of modern furniture on the web today. Google led me to your article and others with interesting information about Mayen's life. A lamp and storage cube of his design are in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

It was interesting reading your post, Michael. I was at Fallingwater for the first time this past weekend, and was googling Kaufman Jr because they DID talk about his relationship to Mayén, and Mayén's role in designing the auxiliary buildings. They described him as Edgar jr.'s lifelong partner, something that I have never before come across in my architectural history classes. I hope that this indicates a shift in the policies of the museum, and possibly the perception of society as well.