The house sits on land once owned by Eliza Griffin Johnston, the widow of Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston. Following the death of her husband at the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862, Eliza and her children came to Southern California at the urging of her brother, Dr. John S. Griffin. Griffin had large land holdings in the Los Angeles area and was a business partner of Benjamin D. Wilson, a local land speculator and politician (Wilson is also the maternal grandfather of General George S. Patton). Griffin sold her the property for $1,000. Eliza named her ranch "Fair Oaks", after her native city in Virginia and also for the stands of coast live oaks in the area. When Eliza's son, Albert II, was killed in a steamship boiler explosion at Wilmington, California in 1864, she left California and returned to Virginia. The ranch was taken over by Benjamin Eaton.
Eaton subdivided the ranch. The southern portion was bought by the Ellises. The northern portion was bought by James F. Crank in 1876. Crank came from New York and was impressed with the land, and soon planted citrus and vineyards. Eliza Johnston's simple wood frame house was moved to another location on the property and Crank built a much larger, more palatial home in 1882. Eliza Johnston's house still stands at 2072 Oakwood Avenue.
In 1883, Crank invested in the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley Railroad, becoming its president. The railroad was subsequently bought by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. Even so, Crank suffered financially, and sold the ranch. It was subdivided in 1910.
The house is a two-and-one-half story wood frame Victorian mansion. It was placed on the Register in 1997 for its association with the early settlement of Altadena.