Having arrived in Mexico in 1905, Mayer began seriously collecting in 1923. In 1963, he established a trust to look after what was by then an enormous collection. Today’s it’s primarily a decorative arts museum, but temporary exhibits often include books, graphic design, photography, industrial design. The museum only opened in 1986, 11 years after Mayer’s death. It’s been a continual tribute to the collector, and to the city ever since.
The permanent collection includes ceramics, silverware, textiles, furniture, sculpture and painting, feather art, lacquer ware, ivory, tortoiseshell, enamels and glass. Works range from the 16th through the 19th centuries.
The historic building was once a grain mill and warehouse. It was, in 1582, converted to a hospital and served in the capacity for 400 years. In fact, the founder was one Pedro López, the first medical doctor to graduate from the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico, today’s UNAM.
The Hospital de los Desamparados came under the auspices of monks of the Order of San Juan de Dios in 1604. They were largely responsible for the character of the architectural structure you can see today. It’s primarily an 18th century complex. The cloister, most of today’s museum, is connected to the Church of San Juan de Dios. The order though, along with all religious orders were expelled from the building in 1820. The hospital administration then passed to the Mexico City government.
Maximilian of Habsburg decreed it a hospital especially for prostitutes. Though the hospital specialized in the treatment of venereal diseases, it remained an important women’s hospital under varying names for several years. In 1931 it was declared a historical monument.
In 1981, the Federal Government granted the Old Hospital of San Juan de Dios to the Franz Mayer Cultural Trust. After a year rehabilitating the property, a historical monument was saved and the Franz Mayer Museum opened its doors.