Virginia McKnight Binger, Owned Broadway Theatres and Gave Name to One, Dead at 86

Obituaries   Virginia McKnight Binger, Owned Broadway Theatres and Gave Name to One, Dead at 86
Virginia McKnight Binger, the multi-millionairess who, with her husband, owned Broadway's Jujamcyn Theatres, lending her name to one of the theatres in the five-house chain, died Dec. 22 at her home in Wayzata, MN, at the age of 86.

Jujamcyn Theatres owns and runs five Broadway playhouses: the Eugene O'Neill, Martin Beck, Walter Kerr, St. James and Virginia. The last was named after Mrs. Binger, the only child of 3M corporation president and chairman William McKnight.

Mrs. Binger and her husband, James H. Binger were, in the 1970s, given two theatres William McNight had bought years earlier—the Martin Beck and St. James. The couple formed Jujamcyn Theatres to run the properties, the company's title a conflation of their children's names, Ju(dith), Jam(es) and Cyn(thia).

In 1981, they added the former Ritz and ANTA theatres to their holdings. The Ritz eventually became the Walter Kerr and the ANTA, the W. 52nd Street palace that was once home to the Theatre Guild, was called the Virginia.

Along with the Shubert Organization and Nederlander Productions, Jujamcyn is one of Broadway's three big theatre owning concerns.

Virginia McKnight Binger was one of the wealthiest citizens in America and, for many years, the richest woman in Minnesota. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that her personal fortune was estimated at $620 million in 1999 by Fortune magazine. She inherited her riches from her father, who became connected to the small Duluth manufacturing company, the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co., in 1907. Later known as 3M, the firm grew into one of the nation's largest. Most Americans know it for its signature product: Scotch-brand cellophane tape. Mr. McKnight was president from 1929 and chairman from 1949 to his retirement in 1966. Like her father, Mrs. Binger used most of her wealth for charitable purposes. Her largess was legendary and rare among the millionaires of today. Mr. McKnight started the McKnight Foundation in 1953. According to the Star Tribune, during its first 20 years, the foundation made grants of only $2.2 million. In 1974, the year Mrs. Binger began running the foundation, assets stood at about $8 million. In 2001, the foundation had assets of $1.9 billion, and gave away $90.8 million in 880 grants.

The McKnight Foundation supports many caused, including the arts. The McKnight Advance Grants and McKnight National Playwriting Residency are well known to Minnesota-based playwrights and theatres.

Binger, who retired as president of the foundation board in 1987, was reportedly very bashful. She rarely talked to the press and seldom attended events honoring her.

She is survived by her husband and two of her children, James M. Binger, a Montana rancher, and daughter Cynthia Binger Boynton, a Boston artist who who succeeded her mother as board president in 1988. Judith Binger Billings died in 1989 after suffering from anorexia and alcoholism, reported the Star Tribune.

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