The San Jacinto Centennial Association was chartered in Harris County, Texas, on September 11, 1935, for: "The extension of aid and assistance, financial and otherwise, in an appropriate observance and celebration of the One Hundredth Anniversary of the liberation of the area which constituted for a time the Republic of Texas, and which now constitutes the State of Texas, from the government of Mexico, and the encouragement and assistance in the erection and construction of appropriate monuments, buildings or other edifices in Harris County and the surrounding country which may be erected or constructed in commemoration of Texas heroes of Texas history, however financed, and the encouragement and assistance in the collecting and preservation of relics, documents and momentoes [sic] of historical interest or importance, and the assistance of civic projects for the education of the citizenship in true patriotic and civic duty and responsibility."
The association was created to be the chief sponsor and coordinator of Houston's participation in the celebrations of the Texas Centennial of 1936. Members of the board of directors included civic leaders and important members of the Houston business and legal community as well as descendants of early Texans. The association's office was opened in leased office space on the eighth floor of the Chamber of Commerce building at 501 Washington Street in downtown Houston on September 30, 1935. The bylaws of the organization stated that "any white person of good character and repute is eligible to active membership in this Association," upon payment of dues of one dollar per year. The association had a budget of $97,500.
President of the association was John C. Townes, Jr., a prominent Houston attorney with the law firm of Vinson, Elkins, Sweeton & Weems. Members of the executive committee were: George D. Wilson of Houston Oil Company as chairman; Mrs. I. B. (Mae Wynne) McFarland, a local preservationist, as secretary; former judge Chester H. Bryan; Norman H. Beard; R. B. Morris; Jeff Barnette; and Wm. S. Patton. H. Dick Golding, president of Trade Associations Inc., was hired as the executive secretary of the association and Wm. S. Patton served as treasurer. Jesse H. Jones, an important Houston businessman serving at the time as chairman of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation for President Franklin D. Roosevelt in Washington, D.C., was named honorary president.
The association formed seven committees to accomplish its work: the publicity committee, with Jeff Barnette as chair; the historical committee was chaired by attorney and historian Clarence R. Wharton; the music committee with Joseph S. Smith as chair; the beautification committee, with C. L. Brock as its chairman; the schools participation committee, chaired by J. S. Griffith; the acquisition of relics and documents committee, with George D. Sears, a prominent corporation lawyer and veteran, as chair; and H. O. Clarke, Jr., an executive with Houston Lighting and Power, chaired the San Jacinto Memorial project committee.
The association was responsible for a number of events and observances held in the Houston area in 1936. Included among them were major events for Texas Independence Day, March 2, a week long celebration from April 13 to 21 to commemorate the Battle of San Jacinto, and four days of celebrations in August commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the City of Houston.
The March 2 Texas Independence Day celebration was broadcast by NBC radio and included speeches by Texas Governor James V. Allred, Tennessee Governor Hill McAlister, and Wisconsin Governor Phillip LaFollette. The Pioneer Log Cabin in Hermann Park, erected by the San Jacinto Chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, was dedicated with the help of the association on Texas Independence Day. Events in April included a reception honoring invited dignitaries from out-of-state, two parades, and a patriotic banquet honoring descendants of Houston pioneers and heroes. An open-air concert at Miller Memorial Theatre, Hermann Park, which included a fireworks display, as well as ceremonies at the San Jacinto battlefield, was also held in April.
Events held during August included a fireworks display in Hermann Park, a birthday luncheon held in the Rice Hotel, and a reception for long-time residents of the city held at the Pioneer Log Cabin in Hermann Park. August events also included a Jubilee Festival on Main Street in downtown Houston, which consisted of a carnival, a beauty contest, and a dance, and a water carnival featuring a boat parade down Buffalo Bayou.
The association assisted in the fundraising for the San Jacinto Memorial Monument and organized the groundbreaking ceremonies that year on March 27, 1936, which were broadcast nationwide over NBC radio. The association also had outdoor billboards erected throughout the southwestern United States during the year to advertise Houston and its Centennial events to the surrounding regions. The association was responsible for the creation of a temporary Museum of Houston and Texas History, housed in the west wing of the Houston Public Library's Julia B. Ideson building from April to November 1936. Artifacts donated for the museum were later deeded by the San Jacinto Centennial Association to the newly created San Jacinto Museum of History Association, which was formed in 1938 to create and operate a museum in the San Jacinto Memorial Monument, completed in 1939.
The San Jacinto Centennial Association refurbished and placed a memorial in the old city cemetery located at 1217 West Dallas Avenue in Houston. At that time the cemetery was renamed Founders Memorial Park in honor of one of the co-founders of Houston, John Kirby Allen, and several Texas Revolution veterans and early settlers of the Houston area buried there. In addition the association erected the Pioneer Memorial Shaft in Hermann Park in honor of the pioneer men and women of Houston.
During 1936 and 1937 the association assisted in the research and held the dedication ceremonies for thirty-one historical markers placed in the Houston area by the Commission of Control for Texas Centennial Celebrations. The association lobbied for improvements of several local highways to better facilitate access to local historical shrines, including the San Jacinto battlefield. The association coordinated the entertainment for the crews of several U.S. Naval vessels that made ports-of-call in Houston during 1936 as part of the statewide Centennial celebrations. The association funded the publication of the book, My Master: The Inside Story of Sam Houston and His Times, by historian Lenoir Hunt, containing the recollections of Sam Houston's former slave Jeff Hamilton.
Several active members of the San Jacinto Centennial Association were later involved in the formation of the San Jacinto Museum of History Association in 1938. The San Jacinto Centennial Association ceased operations at the end of 1938 after the organization donated its last $4000 to start the fundraising campaign for the San Jacinto Museum of History Association. On December 2, 1942, H. Dick Golding, former executive secretary of the San Jacinto Centennial Association, donated the records of the defunct organization to the San Jacinto Museum of History Association.