In July of 2010, Veteran’s Plaza was christened as Silver Spring’s newest urban park and public gathering spot. It replaced an informal grassy area at the corner of Ellsworth and Fenton that was affectionately called the Turf. In addition to the airy and modern Civic Building, the main draw of Veteran’s Plaza is the amphitheater space, covered by a wing-like ceiling of glass. Starting in October of each year, that amphitheater transforms into a cool (literally) ice skating rink.
You can rent skates and even take lessons. With chilly temperatures, music piping and the sound of skates on ice, the area feels closer to Bavarian town center than it does an urban core just outside the nation’s Capital. Another out-of-place and out-of-time element of the Silver Spring Skate Rink is the penguin. Sure, they make sense as ice-adaptable animals. And they are adorable as skate-trainers for the young and the neophytes on ice. But there is more to it than that.
Since 1990, the penguin has slowly become the unofficial mascot of Downtown Silver Spring. (The previous mascot: An Acorn.) That was the year that artist Sally Callmer unveiled her 100-foot long outdoor mural, “Penguin Rush Hour.” It decorates the entrance to the Red Line Metro station on Collesville Road and shows busy penguins commuting via WMATA to their busy downtown D.C. jobs. Sadly for Metro at least, fewer penguins are commuting downtown since the pandemic. More and more, they are working from their well air-conditioned homes.