Living Landmark: The Giant Studebaker Tree Sign of South Bend, Indiana

More than 2000 feet long with letters 250 feet tall, the giant living Studebaker sign near South Bend, Indiana is probably the largest piece of automotive advertising ever created. Here’s more on this amazing living landmark. Photo courtesy of Google Maps. 

 

 

Studebaker (1852-1966) always had a flair for grand marketing gestures. When the giant 50-ft. Studebaker replica near the front gate of the Studebaker Proving Grounds (read the Mac’s Motor City Garage story here) was burned down in 1936, the company devised a brand new statement in approximately the same location. With the aid of the Civilian Conservation Corps, in 1938 a giant sign spelling out the letters “STUDEBAKER” was created in pine trees. Known as the tree sign or the living sign by some, the stand of trees is over 2000 feet long with letters 250 feet tall, dwarfing the famous Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, which has letters a mere 50 feet in height.

 

 

Although Studebaker departed the automobile business in 1966, the living Studebaker sign lives on to this day. One portion of the old Proving Grounds, including the giant 3.0-mile oval track, has been operated by the Bendix Corporation (1966), Bosch (1996), and most recently Navistar International (2015) as a working automotive test facility. Meanwhile, the portion of the old Proving Grounds that includes the living sign and a beautiful wooded area was donated by Bendix to the people of St. Joseph County, Indiana.

Known today as Bendix Woods County Park, the 195-acre facility includes hiking trails, ponds, and picnic areas. And the giant living sign, too, of course. Although some of the trees were significantly damaged by a Christmas 2004 storm, volunteers have been working to restore the damaged portions of the sign, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. If you’d like to visit, either in person or via internet satellite views, Bendix Woods and its historic sign are located around 12 miles west of downtown South Bend at 32132 State Road 2, New Carlisle, Indiana 46552-9522.

 

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