ST. PETERSBURG — In his day, Hernán Molina played with some of the biggest stars in tennis. Bill Tilden, Jack Kramer and Tony Trabert knew Mr. Molina as an up-and-coming player, a former national 18-and-under champion in his native Argentina and a member of the national championship University of California at Berkeley team.
"He could go out on the court with any of them, he was that good," said John McQuillen, a longtime doubles partner of Mr. Molina's. "He could have turned pro but decided to be an architect. Pros didn't make much money then."
Mr. Molina would make a name for himself designing condominiums in South America and the Pinellas gulf beaches. The meticulous, hand-drawn plans still clutter his study, rolled up and stuffed into boxes beneath two shelves of tennis trophies. The alcove-sized room lies at the end of a hallway, an afterthought in the home he designed several years ago.
Mr. Molina, who designed a lifestyle as rich and variable as the homes he created, died Feb. 28, 11 days after collapsing while playing tennis.
He was 83.
He had suffered no apparent health problems and played doubles three times a week at the Racquet Club of St. Petersburg. Other players admired his powerful forehand and dead-on drop shots.
"He had an amazing ability to maintain perfect balance and exacting execution of strokes," said Kathy Woods, the club's tennis director.
For a decade or more as a senior, Mr. Molina enjoyed a 4.5 rating by the United States Tennis Association, the entryway into the upper echelons of the game. (The system assigns world-class players a 7.0 rating.)
"What was amazing was walking out on the court with these young guys," said McQuillen, 59. "They would see this much older guy and think they were going to have an easy time of it, and he would just pound them."
Tennis, however, was only part of a Renaissance life.
Hernán Molina was born in 1930 in Buenos Aires, where his mother sang opera and his father worked for a judge. He married Maria in 1957 after graduating from Berkeley. He would work in Argentina, Brazil and California before moving to St. Petersburg in 1985. They lived in a condominium near the tennis club. He has designed multiple high-end waterfront condominiums including Tuscany By The Sea and the Verandas on the Gulf in Indian Shores.
In 2008 and at his wife's urging, Mr. Molina finished the designs and built their home at 445 33rd Ave. N.
"I told him, 'I don't want to die and live in a house not made by you,' " she said. Many of the walls turn at angles, leading to surprises. The dining room, kitchen and living room all seem to have come out of nowhere. A massive oak tree — "the reason we built the house," his wife said — hugs a wall by the shaded patio. Inside, his wife's paintings provide most of the decoration.
Mr. Molina was playing doubles Feb. 17 at the Racquet Club of St. Petersburg. Midway through the match, he put his opponents on their heels with a serve.
The ball fluttered back to him. Mr. Molina hit a return stoke — "probably for a winner," McQuillen said — then collapsed.
He was taken to St. Anthony's Hospital, but never regained consciousness. Mr. Molina was moved to the hospice wing of Bayfront Health System, where he died Feb. 28.
Correction: An earlier version of this story should have included Mr. Molina's son, Ignacio Molina, as a survivor.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.