“There really is nothing like it,” he said. “It’s the sense of community that you get, the colors, the bands, old friends you may only see once a year. The parade brings out the best of this city.”
The parade also brings out Melton.
Melton has, for the past 25 years, hand-lettered the large signs advertising the parade. He spent Friday installing the four signs at Verdugo, Foy, McCambridge and Izay parks.
“We’ve come to rely on people like him,” said Sandy Dennis, the parade’s vice president. “They’ve kept us going all this time.”
A soft-spoken man with long silver hair and the steady hands of a neurosurgeon, Melton remembers visiting the parade grounds with his brother, Les, back when it still had carnivals and crafts.
“The theme one year was the Gold Rush, and I can recall passing out gold-plated rocks as gold nuggets,” he said.
Their father, Bob Melton, who hand-lettered signs for the parade throughout the mid-1950, owned a small neon sign shop on Glenoaks in Burbank. It was there that Lon and Les learned how to hold a brush and work with neon and vinyl.
After graduating from John Burroughs High School, Melton spent one year at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, after which he served in Vietnam.
In 1970, he and Les opened a sign shop of their own.
“Those were fun times,” said Les Melton. “We did some goofing off. I’m thinking of a time one of us was on a ladder, and it moved and broke a bunch a glass.”
When Les moved to Big Bear a few years later, Lon picked up where their father left off, creating signs for the parade. One year, he waved as actress Debbie Reynolds went by.
And, of course, there was the other work. Melton did the hand-lettering for a city fire engine. He later painted two F-104 jets, including one that stands outside Izay Park and another displayed at the Air & Space Gallery of the California Science Center before the 1984 Olympics.
Along the way, he’s painted signs for “American Idol,” Warner Bros. and Disney.
“You just know hand-lettering by looking at it,” he said. “It’s something that can’t be duplicated by technology, computers.”
But his heart has always been in lettering the parade signs. This year, Melton took a 50% pay cut from the nonprofit that runs the parade. He plans to attend with his daughters and grandchildren.
“When your heart is in it, you can’t let go,” he said.