Things are looking up at 102 W. Santa Fe St. in Marion. Felicia Dye has purchased the Santa Fe Apartments and is having them renovated.
Dye is a comedian living in Los Angeles, so the question comes to mind, how did she come to own property in Marion?
A lot has to do with her family. Her parents, Derrel and Gabby Dye, have lived in Florence since 1999. Her brother, Patrick, and his wife, Sarah, live in Marion with their three children. Another brother, Jim, 24, lives with her parents.
During visits to her parents, Felicia fell in love with the people and with small-town life. Her sons, now 12 and 14, like coming to Kansas.
“They love it here because they can run wild,” she said. “In Los Angeles, they can’t do that.”
She was especially attracted to Marion. People were generous and kind, she said, and it looked like a nice place to live. She and her sons went to the Easter egg hunt last spring, another unique experience they wouldn’t have in Los Angeles.
Family members had settled here, which led her to consider investing some of her retirement money in local real estate. After establishing a business name, Mirror Monkey LLC, she purchased a small house on Freeborn St., which is being renovated. She then saw an ad about the apartment building on Santa Fe and, after looking it over, decided to purchase it.
Her ventures have turned into a family affair.
“It’s been a nice thing for our family,” she said. “It gives my father something to do in retirement, and my autistic brother is learning construction skills.”
Brother Patrick also works at the site at times.
Derrel Dye oversees the work as the building is cleaned out. He said 25 trailer loads of junk and old plaster have been hauled out of the building. Broken windows have been replaced, and a new front porch is in the works.
Felicia said her first concern is that the building be safe. A new roof has been installed and a new wiring system is next. She intends a total makeover including new appliances and carpet. She plans to give the building a new name, too.
“I want it to be livable, safe, warm in winter, and cool in summer,” she said. “I have two tenants who are super-happy about it being fixed.”
She was born in Junction City. Her father was in the military, so the family moved a lot, living many different places including Germany. Felicia was the only sibling born in Kansas, another fact that drew her to invest here.
“Growing up as an army brat, you never have roots,” she said. “Marion is just 60 miles from my birthplace.”
A history of the building
The site on which the Santa Fe apartment building sits was the location of the original Marion Christian Church built in 1880.
The church burned to the ground in 1919; consequently, the church was rebuilt at its present location on Elm Street. The property on Santa Fe Street was sold to George “Cotton” and Daisy Rankin in 1921 for $1,000.
The Rankins then constructed the two-story apartment building at the site. They also constructed a swimming pool and roller-skating rink on North Walnut Street.
The Rankins sold the building to Maud Thompson in 1938 for $5,000. George Rankin died in 1947 and is buried in Marion Cemetery.
After Thompson purchased the building, her daughter, Elizabeth Brodhead and her family moved into the north apartment on the main floor. Brodhead operated the facility for 14 years before purchasing the property from her mother in February 1952.
Maud Thompson was Joan Meyer’s step-grandmother. When the Brodheads moved into the apartments, Meyer babysat for them. They had four children — Dan, Michael, Karen, and Molly, who occasionally return to Marion for high school reunions.
Renowned journalist Jim Lehrer of MacNeil/Lehrer fame lived with his parents and brother in one of the apartments for a year or two in the 1940s when the family operated a bus route in the central Kansas area.
In his book, “We Were Dreamers,” Lehrer called the building the Marion Hotel. He said their apartment was two rooms with a connecting door. Each room was furnished with a double bed and a lamp on a small table. The rent was $55 a month. Lehrer recalled trading baseball cards with Michael Brodhead.
Gene Boettcher acquired the apartment building in 1957 and sold it to the Thieses in 1964. Martin Tice owned the property from 1981 to 1991. He said it still had six apartments, three on each floor.
Jack Higgins, Paul Morse, and Al Church are more recent owners. Church sold the building to Dye in September.
The Dyes were living in California when Felicia graduated from high school. Her father was owner and operator of several drive-in movie theaters before becoming a projection mechanic at Mann Theaters in Los Angeles.
Derrel Dye was sent to Newton to work on a new theater there, and he decided to stay in Kansas, settling in Florence.
Growing up around the movie business, Felicia Dye learned she had a talent as a comedian. She dated a comedian as a teen-ager.
In 1999, she won a Star Search contest. Thus began a 15-year career that took her to numerous nightclubs and other venues across the country, sometimes spending 30 weeks on the road.
She married and took eight years off to raise two sons but is divorced now and back on the circuit. She performs on television, as well, and is a regular on a Nickelodeon show called Parental Discretion. Two years ago, she went to Iraq to entertain the troops.
“They were the best audience,” she said. “They were so appreciative.”
She said her comic routines include stories from real life experiences and a lot of jokes.
Dye is excited about the possibilities that lie ahead for her properties and her family.
“I may not want to live in Los Angeles all of my life,” she said.